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Guest Opinions

Civil Discourse – Why Not a Cup of Coffee?

Imagine if Wyoming was considered as a model of decency, where neighbors give a helping hand, where opposing viewpoints are heard and where people actually have face-to-face conversations.

The Wyoming Business Alliance has had many “neighborhood conversations” on the state level. The creation of the Wyoming Business Council, state energy programs, substance abuse legislation and the Hathaway plan are a few examples of economic strategies and solutions advanced by the Business Alliance over the years.

Here in Wyoming – a state of few people spread across many miles – we theoretically have embraced Cowboy Ethics. The legislature passed a resolution, the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership has been established and philosophies are being discussed. That is a big job. Increased polarization across spectrums of society is not the answer. Not now – really not ever.

Yet, putting into practice, day in and day out, the fundamentals of civil discourse is a tall order, whether in Wyoming, other states or in Washington, D.C.  Indeed, the essence of forward thinking dialog necessitates factual information, reason and compromise – not a stampede of 30-second sound bites, innuendo or castigation. That is why the Business Alliance recommended “Economic Strategies and Civil Discourse in Society,” as one theme for the upcoming Governor’s Business Forum.

The Nov. 19-20 forum, being held in Cheyenne, will bring together leaders from across Wyoming and the nation.  These leaders, as beacons of reason, individually and collectively, can reinforce Wyoming’s tradition of civility – both past, present and, hopefully, into the future.

So what does civility have to do with a better economy? Frankly, it just makes good business sense. The inability to be civil and compromise when developing public policy eats up valuable time in costly stalemates and hurts people in business and citizens in local communities.

Increasingly over the past few years, we have observed the pressures that state legislators face. When bills come up in session – especially dicey ones – they are besieged by emails from individuals and special interest lobbies. The shrillness of some these communications takes its toll, especially given the nominal compensation for what is a year-round volunteer job. I have heard concerns about the lack of civility.

In the past year alone, Wyoming has faced issues with obvious and underlying tensions – state per capita spending reliant on mineral development, which ultimately will be exhausted; high K-12 education spending but less than stellar results; highways beginning to deteriorate, but a resistance to increase the gas tax; and political candidates subjected to “black and white” survey questions, and then being lambasted for their answers.

Advancements in technology constantly move our society forward, but an overreliance on social media, emails and texts to communicate hinders genuine communication and progress. So why not get back to basics and try actually talking to each other for a change on the phone or in person? Moreover, we need to place a value on obtaining factual information from recognized sources, going beyond blogs, tweets and Facebook posts for our news.

Perhaps, we should begin with an old-fashioned cup of coffee around the kitchen table where trust is developed and sustained. This model is somewhat akin to Leadership Wyoming – where we bring together people from different walks of life. They get to know each other, talk about issues and gain trust. And, hopefully after they graduate from the program, they can talk about disagreements.

If Wyoming wants to continue to be a great, we need to talk to each other, take time to listen to different perspectives and be willing to compromise. So come join the conversation at this year’s forum. Have a cup of coffee on us, as well.

Bill Shilling can be reached at 307-577-8000. Visit the Wyoming Business Alliance online at wyomingbusinessalliance.com.