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Clean Speech Illinois Program Seeks To Teach Civil Discourse In A Time Of Polarization; 'Our Whole Society Is At Stake'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The holidays are just a few weeks away, and some fear that a nice Thanksgiving meal could get ugly if a serving of politics is on the menu.

Masks, vaccines, elections; just three topics that easily can add unwanted drama to the dinner table.

Morning Insider Jim Williams tells us about one program that shows you how to keep your festive meal friendly.

They're still in grade school, yet a group of pre-teens at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School are already taking  some wise words to heart.

"It shows us how our words are really important, and how they impact people for the good and for the bad," said 7th grader Rikki Finestone.

Especially in a polarized country, when adults at odds express their views with vitriol, even fists.

"I think our whole society is at stake. I really do," said Rabbi Zev Kahn.

With so much at stake, he is trying to bring down the temperature in our public discourse and in our private conversations; conversations that could easily spin out of control, even at the family Thanksgiving dinner table.

"Our country is being torn apart by negative speech, especially on social media, and especially in the last couple of years," he said.

Rabbi Kahn's solution is called Clean Speech Illinois; a program in print and online, showing us how speak to loved ones and strangers alike.

"If you are the host, and you can begin the meal, say 'No, we're starting a new Thanksgiving tradition. Everybody's got a Thanksgiving tradition. We're starting the Clean Speech Thanksgiving tradition at our family,'" he said.

Clean Speech Illinois has a workbook with 30 days of lessons toward respectful and civil speech but there are nuggets you can put to use now.

One tip: learn to be a better listener.

"If you rearrange the words 'listen,' it spells the word 'silent,'" Kahn said.

The Clean Speech curriculum is taught at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School, at other schools, and in communities across the country.

"That can change the world and make the world a better place, and who doesn't want to make the world a better place," said Rabbi Yosef Cohen, an 8th grade teacher at Arie Crown Hebrew Day School.

"It's not about restricting speech. It's about expanding our speech in enhancing our speech, allowing people who have disagreements to be able to disagree in a respectful way," Kahn said.

Along with turkey and sweet potatoes, they're hoping Clean Speech is added to the Thanksgiving menu.

The program has some other tips for a peaceful holiday: put a card on the table that says this will be a "clean speech dinner." Change the subject if a discussion gets heated. Be prepared to bring other topics that will lead to a civil and respectful conversation.

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