In early February, The McCain-Ravenel Center launched Episcopal’s Civil Dialogue Project 2022, an initiative designed to model civil discussion with knowledgeable speakers, who represent differing perspectives as they engage in thoughtful conversations about timely topics.
The first session took place during an all-School gathering in Callaway Chapel on February 9. The inaugural participants were Kevin Blaum, a former Pa. Representative - D, who served for 26 years, from 1980 - 2006, and Manoli Loupassi, a former Va. Delegate - R, who served from 2007 - 2017 and was a criminal defense attorney for 25 years.
In opening the session, Jeremy Goldstein, Director of the McCain-Ravenel Center, referenced philosopher and professor Arthur Brooks who spoke to students about civil discourse and civil engagement on the eve of the election last year. “Almost no one is ever insulted into agreement,” Goldstein quoted. “And, what he meant was, polarization will not allow us all to go forward as a large group. So tonight we are going to take a moment to sit and listen to a great conversation between two experienced individuals who come from different sides of the aisle and different ideological places. They are going to explore common ground; they are also going to explore their disagreements, listen to each other, and engage in a civil dialogue for the school to experience.”
The evening’s conversation focused on two student-sourced topics — reproductive rights and second amendment rights — with Blaum and Loupassi sharing their positions and experiences representing their respective constituents. Both recounted the importance of relationships, personal beliefs, and thoughtful compromise in their work.
In addressing students Loupassi said, “I want to say that this is a brilliant idea that administrators and your teachers came up with. It’s a great opportunity for you to see that people can have different opinions from you and you can still talk to them and still love them and be nice; there is no reason to be otherwise. I think we have lost a lot of that in our discourse in the country and it is unfortunate.”
While encouraging students to consider the power of their civic engagement, Blaum highlighted the importance of finding common ground and cultivating friendships. “Serving was one of the highlights of my life…I was there at a golden time. We fought like cats and dogs but we were friends. We would argue on the floor of the house all afternoon and then go out to dinner and talk about our families. We do have shared values if we just get to know each other…. Congress has gotten away from that…and there are people who want to keep driving us apart and they are the people you have to vote against. Democrats that do that, vote against them; Republicans that do that, vote against them. The People of the United States get the government they deserve and if we get rid of things like that, government will begin to work again and they will be able to get things done.”
Both emphasized the importance of speaking to individuals with differing viewpoints and intentionally seeking out information from myriad sources, not just ones that align with one’s own thinking as important steps when forming informed opinions. They also encouraged students to consider public service as a future possibility, with Loupassi indicating his belief that several future leaders of our country were likely to be amongst the audience.
The next Civil Dialogue Project session is set for April 10.