‘Civil Conversation: It Can Be Done!’

Albie Vaccaro, Staff Writer of The Current, the student newspaper


In today’s world surrounded by controversy and sensitive topics, one might wonder how to delicately approach difficult topics. As part of the kickoff to Brookdale’s second Civility Week, a representative from the Monmouth Center for World Religions worked with Brookdale students and staff to develop better ways when approaching civil conversations.

Held on Zoom, Monday, Feb. 14, the program was hosted by Angela Kariotis and featured guest speaker Joe Ritacco from the Monmouth Center for World Religions.

Ritacco shared personal stories from throughout his life about civility. Ritacco said he grew up in Brooklyn around many different people and cultures and grew up naturally with not judging people from what they look like on the outside.

He used events and examples from the past and applied them to today’s world, beginning with the still relevant quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “I am convinced men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

Ritacco applied King’s words to his own life, admitting that for much of his life he was homophobic. However, when he became neighbors with a gay man and got to know him, those feelings slipped away and were replaced by understanding.

The presentation focused on demonstrating how to properly use civil conversation. This started with examples of what isn’t civil conversation, such as using an improper term to describe someone. This proceeded to what civil conversation actually is, which for example, was described as speaking to someone politely, thinking before you speak and speaking with empathy.

This was then moved on to the speaking part of things, such as speaking from a personal perspective rather than from a group perspective. This directly related to another example in the speaking category, which was using “I” language. “I” language is described as generally being a better way to talk in a conversation and is better to use than “you” language, Ritacco said.

Listening was described to be more important than speaking, with Ritacco providing the insightful point of, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Ritacco explained the importance of listening by providing the key example of how listening is seen as respectful to someone, even if they disagree with you about something, they will respect that you are listening to them and trying to understand them.

Ritacco ended the meeting by summing up everything he talked about, including the idea of the importance in understanding differences. He also again talked about the importance of empathy when speaking, as well as the value of listening. This led to everyone going into breakout groups and talking about interactions in their lives with people who were different from them.

For the today’s and rest of the week’s events go to the website: https://www.brookdalecc.edu/civility-week/.