Civil discourse yields solutions

There wasn’t much debate at Peterborough’s Deliberative Session on Tuesday evening — when 66 registered voters gathered at the Town House — but there were examples of civil discourse when it came to the one article about which voters had something to say: the petition article calling for a New Hampshire resolution to get big money out of politics.

Most of the speakers favored the resolution, but one person — a Harrisville resident — expressed concerns that many of us may not really know what the amendment to the U.S. Constitution might really mean. This was countered with some explaining that the language of the amendment isn’t finalized; the resolution simply deals with the concept of empowering our representatives to safeguard our elections from the influence of big money.

A lesser debate, and we hesitate to call it a debate, was about what the first session of Peterborough’s voting season is really for. One person said he thought expressing personal opinions about the proposed articles wasn’t the session’s purpose. But Marcia Patten, former editor of the Ledger-Transcript, expressed a different view, explaining that the word “deliberative” implies discussion and she hoped people would continue to see deliberative sessions that way. Still, the discussion was gentle and polite.

The late Governor Walter Peterson would have been proud of his hometown.

The topic of civil discourse is in fact the subject of the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Bass Hall. Former N.H. Governor and U.S. Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican, will talk about the deteriorating tone of civil discourse in our society. (The Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse is a project of the Monadnock Center for History and Culture and the New England Center for Civic Life at Franklin Pierce University, in collaboration with the Ledger-Transcript.)

The way we disagree in politics at every level of governance affects our ability to solve problems as a town, as a state and as a nation. It also influences how we interact in the wider world. Are we a people who want to be forever locked behind our party lines, unable to work with others whose philosophy is different from our own? It’s a question that demands an answer.

Peterson was someone who upheld the spirit of civil discourse, showing us the way. And it was his example of that mastery that made him so beloved by people, both Democrats and Republicans. Civil discourse seems to have come easily to Peterson and it was a skill he further honed over many decades of working with people in both politics and educational enterprises.

For most of us, though, practice is what we need.

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