Five Rules for Civil Discourse

Each Free Thought Forum exists to promote healthy civil discussion and celebrate the free-exchange of ideas. We assert that one’s ability to voice their ideas and have them supported, contested, tested, and reviewed among peers (and in-person) is an indispensable tool in one’s honest search for the correct answers to life’s most important questions.

To ensure that all participants in a free thought forum have the opportunity to share their ideas while being treated respectfully, the following rules for civil discourse have been tested and developed by the board of directors. By participating in a weekly open discussion, all guests, members, and hosts agree to abide by the following:

1. Be Respectful of Each Other’s Time

If a designated host senses that you have taken more than 5 minutes to make a point, he/she will insist that someone else is given an opportunity to talk. Do not to interrupt or talk over someone else.

2. Criticize Ideas, not People

No one comes to an open discussion to be personally attacked. If you believe that an idea deserves criticism, it is essential that you address the claims or opinions themselves. This also applies to groups of people. There is nothing wrong with criticizing what a group of people profess, as long as the people themselves are treated with respect. Phrases such as “I disagree,” “what makes you say that?” or “what do you think of the counter-argument?” are all useful in keeping the conversation positive and inclusive.

3. Avoid Fallacious Argument or Unsubstantiated Declarations

Committing a logical fallacy or making bold claims without explaining the reasoning behind why you believe as you do can hinder productive thought and meaningful discussion.

4. Be Open to Scrutiny and a Diversity of Opinion

The objective of each meeting is not for someone to “win” or to “convert” anyone else. A discussion is not a debate. Rather, it is to allow each participant’s idea to compete in an open marketplace of ideas under to its own merits.

5. Recognize the Authority of the Host as Moderator

Your host (a trained volunteer) is much like a sports referee or a judge in a courtroom. In order to maintain civility and to promote productive dialogue, all participants agree to respectfully follow their Host’s facilitation and moderation.

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Written by Nicholas Burk, Executive Board Member © 2019 Free Thought Initiative