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Why civility should be key in politics

Check out Alex’s latest column on stuff.co.nz, originally printed in The Press.

When Bill English resigned from Parliament, he prompted outbursts of civility.

After he delivered his valedictory speech, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was one of the first across the floor of the debating chamber to congratulate him. Long-time political opponents, like Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, and Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, were also among those in a packed chamber showing respect to English.

They weren’t merely being polite. They, and he, were demonstrating one of the virtues that makes politics possible.

It’s tempting to think that anyone who disagrees with us is not only wrong, but bad – self-interested, power hungry, or looking out for a section of society at the expense of the rest of us.

Civility means checking this starting point and recognising that our opponents may have good intent and deserve our respect – even if we disagree deeply and passionately about the things that matter most to us.

Why does this matter so much? Politics inevitably involves a contest about the most important issues confronting society. The stakes are high, and feelings can be too. After all, why should you be civil or give any quarter if you genuinely believe your opponents’ plan will make people’s lives miserable, or increase the risk of catastrophic climatic events, or redefine social institutions like the family? Why not use any means necessary to win? Because the alternative is to fracture and to live in a bitter, polarised country.

In fact, as Waldron says, civility makes it possible for the losers of these contests to accept the winners’ victory, and to move forward together peacefully despite our differences. keep reading…

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Alex Penk

By Alex Penk - 09/03/2018

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