Thayer Global Speaker Series: ‘Brave Talk’ highlights importance of civil discourse
Not one of the three panelists taking part in the most recent installment of the Thayer Global Speaker Series said that engaging in dialogue with someone who doesn’t share your beliefs is easy.
But all three agreed it’s critical for our students, for our school, for democracy, and for the world.
“Pluralism is the juice of democracy,” panelist Andrew H. Card Jr. GP ‘27, ‘29 told those gathered Oct. 19 in the CFA’s Hale Theater for Brave Talk: Civil Discourse in a Divided World. Card, a Holbrook native whose career in politics included serving as chief of staff for President George W. Bush, was joined on the panel by Michael Curry P ‘26, an attorney with more than 30 years of experience in civil rights advocacy, and Dr. Lisbeth Tarlow ‘66, who retired from a professional career in academia and now commits herself full-time to the nonprofit sector. Dr. Timothy Patrick McCarthy, an award-winning professor at Harvard who is also one of Thayer’s resident scholars, served as the night’s moderator.
The evening’s discussion touched upon many issues, from the double-edged sword of social media to the increased polarization of current politics to the crisis in the Middle East, but there was clear consensus that a lack of engagement and dialogue only exacerbates hate, fear, and division. In his opening remarks, Head of School Chris Fortunato P ‘26, ‘28 introduced the event as part of the launch of Thayer’s amplified commitment to civic engagement and civil discourse, which he noted are deeply connected to the school’s mission and values. Those sentiments and concerns about the divisiveness in our society were echoed by the panelists.
“We don’t have conversations in this world, and it frustrates me,” said Curry, president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, former head of the Boston NAACP, and a member of the Academy’s board of trustees. “The conversations are breaking down.” Drawing from his personal and professional history, Curry said he wants people to develop the skills necessary to have those tough, emotional conversations while remaining civil and respectful.
For Tarlow, who served for 20 years as the executive director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, truly listening, feeling uncomfortable, and even making missteps are all part of the dialogue process.
McCarthy emphasized the importance of schools as intergenerational spaces where people could argue about the things truly worth arguing about. He also noted that, in a sense, arguing was a form of common ground.
“If you’re fighting with someone, at least you know you both care about something,” McCarthy said.
At one point in the evening, Card shared stories of his grandmother, a woman who told her family that “We” — as in “We the People,” the start of the Preamble to the Constitution — is the most important word in that document even though the “We” clearly didn’t apply to her for much of her life.
“We,” said Card. “It’s our government. If it’s not working well, it’s our fault.” He then urged audience members to “answer the invitation” of democracy and get involved in the process in any way they could.
Fortunato also invited the greater Thayer community — students, faculty/staff, families, and alums — to join in this work with humility, humanity, and resolve “so that Thayer may lead the way and develop the next generation of leaders.” He noted that authentic engagement is the foundation of learning excellence, and that Thayer would always promote such engagement across lines of difference even when things got difficult.
“This is messy and complex work in which there are many opinions on how to do this right and many examples of how to do it badly. This is hard work. But we’re Thayer Academy. We can do hard things,” Fortunato said.
The Thayer Global Speaker Series brings thought leaders, innovators, and difference-makers to the Thayer campus to engage the community in issues that matter to the world.