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Dialogue Across Differences

In Focus

Dialogue Across Differences

The Harvard community is exploring what civil discourse is, why it’s important, and how we can foster it.

Starting the conversation

It’s important to distinguish between two senses of civility.

The first is a superficial kind of civility—being nice, refraining from insults.

The second is a deeper, more important sense of civility that is about behaving in ways that are necessary for cooperative projects such as schools and democratic societies to work well.”


Archon Fung, Harvard Kennedy School professor

Archon Fung
In a polarized society like ours, campuses are essential places to train and practice civility.”

Eric Beerbohm, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ senior adviser for civil discourse

Eric Beerbohm
A pernicious problem confronting virtually all human societies is people’s unwillingness to engage with views and opinions they do not share.”

Julia Minson, associate professor at Harvard Kennedy School

Julia Minson in a suit

Photo courtesy of Jessica Scranton

Fall views outside Swartz Hall at HDS. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer.

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As part of a commitment to open dialogue on campus and off, Harvard will hold a series of events, including the Summit on Intellectual Vitality and Free Expression and “Leading When It’s Difficult” with U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, designed to model productive dialogue. The University-wide programming is part of a broader initiative to address how the campus community can communicate more openly and constructively within classrooms and in the broader world.

Learn more about Harvard Dialogues

Across the aisle

The ability to disagree constructively and across difference is important for learning and working together effectively, as well as being vital for democracy.

Two cartoon people pushing on a word bubble

Candid and constructive conversations

Explore how Harvard Kennedy School is creating strategies to engage with competing perspectives, talk with those with whom we disagree, and ensure that all members of the community feel heard and respected.

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  • Harvard International Review

Why is civil political discourse important for democracy?

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  • Harvard Business School

How does Wikipedia keep political discourse from turning ugly?

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  • Harvard Business School

How can leaders find unity during challenging times?

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  • Harvard Kennedy School

Can politicians learn to disagree better?

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  • Nieman Foundation

Can dialogue journalism foster civil discourse and increase trust in the media?

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  • Harvard Gazette

Should we be worried about the rising heat of political discourse? Yes.

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Starting early

Teaching children and teens how to have constructive, respectful conversations aimed at fostering understanding is foundational for a robust future and a healthy society.

Explore six tips for parents and family members to support teens in building and practicing skills that are fundamental to having productive conversations across different points of view.

Raising children in a digital age makes it essential for parents to help them process and think critically about the messages they encounter online, and to consider the impact that their own words and actions can have on others.

Discourse in action

This Civil Disagreement series is a collaboration among five institutes committed to reducing polarization by teaching students how to connect across political difference.

Responding to the climate change crisis
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Civil disagreement

Through this series, the Harvard’s Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics has explored immigration, guns in America, policing in America, and reproduction and abortion.

Explore the whole series