Westmont Magazine Passion for Civility
Mike Giuliano is a busy guy. He teaches communication studies classes at Westmont and chairs his department. Coach of the women’s soccer team, he has led them to two national titles in three years. He also directs the successful debate and speech tournaments, which involve nearly 200 students.
The most surprising thing about his varied responsibilities is the passion he brings to all of them. He loves what he does and has no interest in narrowing his focus.
When the lady Warriors went to their seventh straight NAIA national tournament, Mike didn’t expect them to come home as champions.
“We never played consistently last season and lost the regional play-off,” he notes. “We had only a one-in-six chance of getting an at-large berth in the tournament. When that happened, the energizing power of an unexpected second chance fired up the team. We played great soccer. We finally put all the pieces together.”
Mike sees no conflict between intercollegiate athletics and liberal arts education. “There is no distinction between the discipline of the body and the discipline of the mind,” he says. “Athletic ability is God-given, and athletes get a chance to practice life’s most difficult moments when the stakes are relatively low.”
He recalls the team’s loss in the 2000 national quarterfinals. “We outshot the other team 36-4 but lost on a penalty kick. It’s hard to lose something that should be yours. It teaches you that life is not fair and gives you an opportunity to be gracious in defeat. Emotional turmoil and intensity make the most poignant learning moments.”
As a scholar, Mike has studied televangelists and published a book, “Thrice-Born: The Rhetorical Comeback of Jimmy Swaggart.”
He has turned his attention to truth-telling, convinced that we deeply underestimate our level of comfort with deception. His work identifies contemporary plots that hinge on deceiving characters, often to make them feel better about themselves. This kind of benevolent deception ultimately proves harmful, he believes.
One of his greatest passions is for civil discourse, especially by Christians. “The way believers talk to those with whom they disagree is scandalous,” he states.
“I’m not talking about a niceness campaign,” he adds. “Passionate civility means that we listen carefully to others and respond to them with respectful disagreement. How often do we really listen to people with opposing views? We must hold absolute truth with humility.”
Mike notes that incivility is rampant in our culture, citing television shows like “The Weakest Link,” as examples. He encourages students to take a different approach, summarized in three statements: “I care about truth and justice and am willing to share my views with others. When I share my views with others, they walk away feeling respected and taken seriously. When I share my views with others, my arguments are sound and well thought out.”
This summer, he and Deborah Dunn, a fellow communication studies professor, are leading a group of students on a six-week trip to Northern Ireland to study reconciliation, conflict resolution and relational communication. Meeting with politicians, religious leaders, academics and peace activists will give students an opportunity to practice respectful listening and passionate civility.
The debate tournament is another place where students learn they can be civil when disagreeing. The short, impromptu debates may not teach a lot about speaking, but Mike hopes the participants gain confidence, see the benefit of good critical thinking skills, and get involved in the world of ideas. “It’s great to hear comments like, ’I can do this. I can compete.’”
Mike is committed to family time with his wife and three children, who went to Ireland with him. When he travels, he takes one of his kids along. He is as passionate about his family as he is about his work — and his life.