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Guest column: We need to have healthy and respectful conversations
Cathy Drerup
Cathy Drerup

I am very proud to live in a country where citizens are free to express their varied opinions in a variety of ways.

I support peaceful demonstrations and citizen gatherings where people show respect for one another while they express opinions, needs and celebrations. I also believe that many people who demonstrate publicly are also simultaneously active voters, in contact with elected officials, engaged in civic endeavors and/or local political parties, and work to impact change over time, not just in the moment of an event.

It has made me sad and frustrated when comments imply all those people who are peacefully demonstrating have not, or will not, be doing anything else to advance their cause, beliefs, needs and celebrations. It may be true for some, but it should not be implied for all.

I have been pondering how some common themes could be used to start healthy and respectful political conversations among citizens, friends and family, even when we know in advance that conflicting beliefs and opinions will emerge. I personally want to get better at engaging in important discussions about our amazing country, our political process and realities, our nation’s challenges and celebrating the blessings I experience as an American.

Let’s take words like respect, accept, hope, interests, fear and beliefs and weave them into healthy citizen sharing. If I use those words to express myself, here is how my thoughts and feelings could be framed within a conversation:

“I respect different opinions. I respect the office of the presidency, even when my preferred candidate is not in the position. I accept the electoral process results and will have both an open mind and inquisitive spirit as new leadership begins to work. I am interested to see how President Trump’s experience as a corporate executive may impact different ways to approach engagement with stakeholders such as small business, corporations, the workforce and our economy in general.

“Yet, I am fearful that President Trump’s communication style of using texts to address serious issues, his fast response and subjective statements indicate that he and his administration team may not be using interagency expertise, advice and collaboration to review information, reach conclusions and make decisions. I am fearful his approach to work and leadership may not include sufficient due diligence to collaborate with other branches and entities of our government, beyond the executive branch.

“I believe in the checks and balances of our government. I am discouraged when federal legislators resist working together. This chronic lack of collaboration by a large percentage of federal elected officials is not new to this political cycle. It has occurred for many years under both Democratic and Republican majorities and presidents.

“And finally, as I have a chronic and incurable cancer that requires oral chemotherapy two times a day for the rest of my life, I am fearful that people with pre-existing health conditions may not be protected if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.”

The next step in this conversation would be for me to be respectful and listen to the opinions, hopes, interests, fears and beliefs of the other person(s) in the room. I’m looking forward to more healthy and respectful conversations about our country, while maintaining healthy relationships with people I care about who may think and feel differently than I do about certain issues.

I hope others join me in this citizen opportunity to experience mature and mutually respectful expression of our free speech!

Cathy Drerup is a Flowery Branch resident and a community member of The Times’ editorial board.

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