In Columbia College lecture, former congressman urges civility in politics

Thursday, March 10, 2011 | 11:29 p.m. CST; updated 6:55 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 9, 2011

COLUMBIA — Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach spoke to an audience of Columbia College students and faculty and community members about civility and how it can go a long way in American politics.

At a time when Americans are questioning the level of discourse in American politics, especially after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Leach presented his thoughts on the importance of civility and manners in politics.

“Words express emotion,” he said.

Leach, now chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, spoke to about 250 people in Launer Auditorium on Thursday night as part of the annual Althea W. and John A. Schiffman Ethics in Society series.

Leach graduated from Princeton University and received a master’s degree in Soviet politics from the School of Advanced International Studies at The Johns Hopkins University. He did additional graduate studies at the London School of Economics and holds eight honorary degrees.

Leach presented the audience with ideas in several two-minute courses in American government about political science, journalism, philosophy, sports, literature and reality.

During "Political Science 101," Leach began with thecountry’s political history.

According to Leach, 4 percent of voters control which candidates represent each party. That 4 percent is socially conservative on the Republican side and socially liberal on the Democratic, he said, leaving the "vast majoritarian center" underrepresented.

Leach talked about the four-book series “Alexandria Quartet” by British author Lawrence Durrell during "Literature 101." The series presents four perspectives — one in each book — on one event in Alexandria, Egypt, before and during World War II. Leach said it’s important to see things from more than one set of eyes.

“If we think our society is one, we are still missing the big picture,” he said. “We won’t have the big picture until we listen to what other people have to say.”

In "Reality 101," he focused on how 9/11 has forced Americans to change their way of thinking.

“(Sept. 11) has taught us that thinking must change, not simply because of the destructive power of the big bomb but because of the implosive nature of small acts,” Leach said.

Leach concluded the lecture by explaining what civility actually requires:

“Civility is not simply principle of matters,” he said. “What it does require is the willingness to consider and respect the views of others, with (the) principal understanding that we are all connected and rely on one another.”

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