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Character Challenges

Scholars in the field of education recommend that students apply the step-back step-up method during class discussions: participants who speak a lot are encouraged to step back while those who have not spoken are encouraged to step up and share their thoughts.

Two “speech acts” in the Newfield Model are of particular importance in how we interact as a community: we seek to cultivate our ability to distinguish between assertions (facts) and assessments (judgments/opinions).

“An assertion is a fact. It belongs to the thing being observed and can be either true or false. It’s a statement that is measurable and can be verified by an objective third party.”

“An assessment, however, is a judgment and opinion. It belongs to the observer and in many ways may reveal more about the observer than they do about what’s being observed. No third party may prove an assessment true or false. An assessment can be either grounded or ungrounded. They are personal judgments made by different observers out of different standards, beliefs, moods and experiences. Many times assessments have to do with the future and impact it profoundly. Regardless if negative or positive, they influence interpretations and actions. Many people live their life as if an assessment (opinion) is an assertion (fact).”
We engage the material and each other with professionalism and curtesy. This means that argumentative and personal attacks that demean another person will not be tolerated. In ReligionAndPublicLife.org, we hold one another accountable to a higher professional standard: to make meaning with one another about the ethical issues of our time.
It is helpful when we take on a disposition that focuses on ideas not people. We do not engage in an argument with a person. Rather, we engage in a formal examination of an ideas––always holding the inherent worth and dignity of the person with whom we are in communication. We model for others how not to make things personal and how not to take things personally.
As members of the ReligionAndPublicLife.org community, we consider taking an ontological approach to learning—ontology is the study of the nature of being. In the context of our learning we ask ourselves, “who am I being while I am doing my work?” Am I being engaging, generative, generous, creative, helpful, constrictive?” If so, wonderful, keep it up! But be careful of the times when crafting our intellectual arguments, we find ourselves being argumentative, combative, defensive, and so on. Pay close attention to not only what you are doing but who are being.
Try distinguishing between disagreeing with an idea as compared to being disagreeable with another person. Focus your attention on not only what you say but how you say it. Consider what mood you want to create with your words. Are you achieving your desired impact? Continue to experiment and try and try again.
One technique for engaging difficult ideas is to physically lean in with a posture of curiosity. This requires a disposition of active listening and a commitment to seek understanding, which need not imply agreement. Try this approach each time you find yourself crossing your arms and slamming your ears shut. Simply challenge yourself by saying, “I’m going to be curious not furious.”

Often debates rest upon the perceived notion that “I must be right all the time.” Sayings like, “If I’m not right then I won’t….” rest upon the idea that what’s more important is who is right. This is a false idea that can result in a lot of confusion and pain. In this class, we will be operating from the assumption that we are seeking to examine “what is right” and not to diminish that inquiry with the view that who we like (this person v that person) or affiliate with (this political party or that political party).

The purpose of ReligionAndPublicLife.org is to create a space where we can practice professional skills. We model for each other how to transcend zero-sum thinking, where one person’s win is another’s loss. This dualist, good/bad, wright/wrong thinking can lead us to create a competitive environment rather than a professional collegial setting in which we, as researchers, inquire about the nature of various social dilemmas.

We recommend using “I” statements when expressing your own views. This means, we expect individuals to speak for themselves, not for any other group identity, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation, gender identity, sexuality, and so on. This also means that we do not expect individuals to have to speak for or represent anyone but themselves.

We all make mistakes. We say things that were unmindful and can have a harmful impact, whether we were aware of it or not. We encourage members of ReligionAndPublicLife.org to communicate the term “ouch” when someone’s language may have had a negative impact on another. In doing so, we assume that we are mature enough to receive direct feedback, contain conflicts, process them, and learn from our mistakes. Our class is capable of holding one another in care when mistakes are made. Please be kind and generous with one another through this transformative process. We are all works in progress.

When we make mistakes, we all have the opportunity in in ReligionAndPublicLife.org to ask for a “redo” —– a chance to do or say something again differently. This is a redemptive moment where one is able to acknowledge the negative impact they had, to explicitly apologize, and to re-present their position in a way that honors those impacted and furthers the goal of making meaning together rather than demeaning one another.