Vermont Professor Promotes 'Moral Conversation'

January 21, 2010

Dr. Robert Nash described his classroom as a “place to do a barn-raising instead of a boxing match” during his Thursday Chapel talk.

Nash, a University of Vermont professor for 41 years, was on campus for a number of sessions on “moral conversations.” For 25 years, he told those gathered Thursday morning, he has tried to practice moral conversations.

See his full Chapel Talk on the Wabash YouTube Channel.

“It is the most difficult way of communicating, my buttons can be pushed as easily as your buttons can be pushed,” he said. “Me and my students seek to become co-truth seekers and not adversaries.”

The key, he said, was to be in the here and now and be in a conversation for one another. He spoke of Zen and focusing on the moment.

He shared an anecdote from his own classroom where one outspoken student angered nearly everyone present. It was a student who brought the class back to “moral conversation.”

“We need to go back to conversation starters and avoid conversation stoppers,” Nash recalled the student saying. His class then brainstormed on ways to achieve “moral conversation.”

The conclusion, though simplistic, are tough to achieve. Nash’s students reiterated the importance of “no name calling, not repeating the same old arguments, not denouncing others, avoiding positioning yourself when speaking, speaking just for yourself not others and helping others shine in conversation” as some of the keys to moral conversation.

Dr. Nash and the co-author of his book, "How to Talk About Hot Topics on Campus: From Polarization to Moral Conversation.” DeMethra Bradley will present a Thursday evening workshop for the entire campus and a Friday lunchtime workshop for faculty and staff.


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