My birthday is this Saturday, and it’s a big one. I’m not saying which one, but it’s big enough that I’ll be in a new demographic when I take surveys. It’s also my second birthday to occur during COVID-19.
Last year, I didn’t do much celebrating: The World Health Organization had declared a pandemic about a week before my birthday, stay-at-home orders had been put in place, and we were all just starting to realize the scale of what was happening.
But then, I’ve never been much of a birthday party-er. Most years, I spend my birthday thinking about what I have or haven’t accomplished in the past year and that doesn’t always lend itself to big celebrations. On Saturday, in addition to coming to terms with my new demographic status, I’m going to be reflecting on the fact that a lot of things I’d hoped to accomplish over the past year did not happen.
One thing that hasn’t gone according to plan over the past year is Civil Squared.
This is our fifty-second issue and we’ve hit our own milestone: a year’s worth of this weekly newsletter. Back in March of 2020 when we launched Civil Squared, we had a whole list of topics we planned to cover, and, in our second week, we set that list aside and adapted, like everyone else did, to changing circumstances.
This week, we’re looking back at the issues that got the most attention—positive and negative—from you, our readers. Maybe the year didn’t go to plan, but what I’m going to celebrate are the important conversations that occurred about important topics in your communities as a result of these newsletters.
I’d love to hear from you
I know those conversations happened because readers have written to tell me so, and I hope, as a birthday present to Civil Squared, you’ll reply to this email and tell me more. What did you talk about this past year? What’s on your mind, and what would you like to discuss in the coming year?
At Civil Squared, we have a sentiment that will likely never appear on any birthday card, but it’s what we wish for ourselves and for you:
We envision a time when individuals engage with one another with empathy and intellectual curiosity. People won’t just yell at one another on social media or retreat to their own corners, but they’ll devise innovative solutions to the challenges in their communities as a result of vigorous, respectful, and creative conversations.
Enjoy these highlights from the past fifty-two issues, and, if you’ve got a few minutes, let me know how your conversations are going!
The 5 most engaging and controversial issues from the past year
- Politics is not where life happens, Nov. 10, 2020 – More people opened this issue than any other. It’s also the issue that had the second highest number of unsubscribes! This issue highlighted our discussion with EconTalk’s Russ Roberts: “If we really want to have an impact on the world around us, here’s something Russ says we can do for one another: remember that anger gets in the way of learning and, very simply, ‘Don’t yell back.’”
- Sitting for an hour on someone else’s couch, Sept. 22, 2020 – My colleague Beth Erber looked at the NBA players protest over racial injustice in this issue, one that had the second highest number of opens and the highest percentage of unsubscribes. “Should athletes stick to sports and leave political protests to pundits and elected officials? No matter what you think about this question, productive dialogue about it requires the willingness to put yourself in the shoes of someone who sees things very differently.”
- How and with whom do you disagree? Sept. 15, 2020 – This issue had, overall, the most combined engagement from readers all year. A lot of people opened this issue, a lot of people clicked on the links we included, a lot of people shared the issue, and a lot of people also unsubscribed. We asked you to think about what “common ground” looks like to you as we talked with Jordan Blashek, a Marine, Republican, and lawyer who wrote a book about multiple road trips with his good friend and fellow law student, journalist Chris Haugh.
- Fishing and politics don’t mix, Aug. 25, 2020 – A lot of you were interested in Jake Hiles, a charter fishing company owner in Virginia, who got national media attention for refusing to serve Democrats wanting to book his boat. In fact, Captain Hiles ultimately didn’t ban Democrats, but he did outlaw “talking politics” while fishing. During the national party conventions in late summer, we asked you to consider whether our political parties define us.
- Education Matters, Feb. 9, 2021 – So far in 2021, this issue from Beth has generated the most interest. She highlighted our podcast episode with education reformer, Derrell Bradford, who spoke with us about the importance of civic literacy. “When the world seems like it’s falling apart, an education grounded in history reminds us that things were not always this way and they don’t have to be this way. There are things each of us can do to repair the damage.”
Photo by pixelliebe on Adobe Stock