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On the Art of Considerate Persuasion: A Call for Rhetorical Civility

Unfortunately, neither constant economic progress nor rapid technological advance assures symmetric refinement of our moral sensitivity. They cannot eradicate enormous incivility, narrow-mindedness, and ideological polarization from the public spaces of contemporary societies in the global West and far beyond, including Ukraine. Each context has its own "sore points," and the one I want to spend some time with here concerns religiosity and irreverence in the public realm.

A growing number of our fellow citizens have great aspirations towards modernization and a desire to overgrow both traditional paternalism and post-soviet cultural anxieties. Yet, these aspirations are often accompanied by contempt towards the less "enlightened." Some conventional, often religious, beliefs and practices, expressions of piety, and "traditional values" discourse are challenged now and then. Meanwhile, on the conservative side of the emerging ideological spectrum, there is often no less contempt and disapproval of other-minded people.

The reasons to offend (and feel offended) are not difficult to find on both sides, especially when distinctive visual imagery is at stake. In this cultural atmosphere, even the decorations on a Christmas tree in the capital city may become the apple of discord.

I intend to look at the instances like that through the lenses of civility theory. The latter is a vast field of study with many approaches and has both its skeptics and enthusiasts. I am proposing an approach that I call rhetorical civility to address the public clashes of "pious" vs. "irreverent," "offensive," or even "blasphemous;" "traditional" vs. "revisionist", "post-Christian" vs. the mix of Christian tenets and folk superstitions.

Rhetorical civility focuses on how the parties channel their opinions and how they express themselves. It does not preclude the seeds of truth in something that is expressed in an unconventional or "offensive" way, yet challenges and encourages us to be more creative in arguing something or convincing someone and more "literate" in the beliefs and convictions of each other. The article will study the trilateral enactment of rhetorical civility, drawing particular attention to the offender's concerns, the offended one's concerns, and the concerns of the broader context/audience.

This ethical evaluation of offence-giving, offence-taking, and the cultural message they send, is also meant to provide some practical proposals for policymakers, journalists, opinionmakers, social media users, and everyone concerned with the quality of our living, dreaming, and thinking together.

Khrystyna Mykhaliuk, PhD Candidate at KU Leuven and a guest lecturer of political science department (UCU)


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