Two journalists with differing ideologies discuss four pillars to civil arguments

Over the span of their careers, Detroit journalists Noah Finley and Stephen Henderson haven’t agreed on almost anything politically.

Yet the Detroit News editorial page editor and the former Detroit Free Press editorial page editor, respectively, came to Saginaw Valley State University on April 18 to talk about how they have been able to maintain their close friendship.

This friendship is the root of their cause, the Civility Project, which started in 2019 and has an objective to help people engage in civil discourse.

“We’re just trying to get people to talk to each other,” Finley said to an audience of about 30 people at the Rhea Miller Recital Hall.

To Finley and Henderson, a constructive argument is built on four pillars: drop assumptions, set reasonable expectations, practice active listening, and have a commitment to one another and the space you’re sharing.

It’s key to not assume what someone’s belief is based on the label of an ideology, Finley said. All people come to their opinions through learning information and filtering it through their experiences.

Henderson said one way to drop those assumptions is by being interested in who the other person really is.

“This is not an effort to make people agree,” he said. “This is about how we talk to each other, about what we see in one another, and even if we disagree, finding value in the person who we disagree with and maintaining those differences.”

While civility does have some limits, like when someone in a marginalized group might be pushed to defend their humanity, Henderson also reiterated that people should not make assumptions.

“Nobody has the obligation to counter someone who doesn’t respect their rights or humanity,” Henderson said. “One of the problems now is that we are almost trained to assume that people who disagree with us fall into that category (of having animosity towards us).”

While trying to understand who the other person is, Finley said people should not expect to change the other person’s ideology in an argument. But both parties should learn from each other in an argument.

“We may never agree, but we can disagree with a lot more understanding and respect for one another,” he said.

Throughout the discussion, social media was often brought up as the epicenter of issues surrounding discourse.

Social media encourage “certainty over curiosity,” Henderson said.

But people need to talk about their differences, Finley added.

“Don’t ignore it,” he said. “That just breeds resentment. I think the key to salvaging (a relationship) is saying that we’re going to talk about our differences, and we’re going to talk about (them) in a respectful way.”

 The event was part of the university’s Velasquez Lecture on Liberty and Free Markets series.

Henderson won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for commentary and the 2014 National Association of Black Journalists Journalist of the Year Award while writing for the Free Press. Since 2015, he has been the host of “Detroit Today” on WDET

Finley has also been the Detroit News city editor, business editor, politics editor and deputy managing editor. In 2000, he was named Editorial Page Editor and his columns have appeared in the newspaper ever since. He is co-host of One Detroit on Detroit Public Television

By Ben Jodway, Midland Daily News