05/28/2014 03:28 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

Maya Angelou -- A Pioneer of Civil Discourse

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Today the world experienced a significant loss when prolific American author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou passed away. Among Dr. Angelou's many contributions to the world was her ability to use words to lift people up, rather than to bring them down. A literary genius, Dr. Angelou used the power of words to open up people's perspectives, to give light to wrongs and to help change the world. Dr. Angelou was a model for civil discourse. She didn't cherry-pick her words; she didn't make the world seem rosy. She addressed issues and injustices in the world, but she did so in a way that made people want to help make things better, rather than making them want to fall into despair.

At the National Institute for Civil Discourse, we define civility as the free and respectful exchange of different points of view. As humans, we may disagree on how to get something done, but in many ways we do agree on the end goal. We strive for a country that celebrates and promotes our freedoms as defined by our founding fathers. We strive to leave the world in a better place for our future generations. And throughout it all, we are all on this journey together. Through the exchange of ideas, perceptions and opinions, we can learn from one another. We can see problems in a different light, and many times, we can come to different conclusions. It is the art of civil discourse that helps us to better understand the full picture, and to use words to inspire personal growth.

As we continue our path to promote civil discourse with our elected officials, in the media, and throughout our homes, we honor Dr. Angelou. She has set the path for how best it can be done: through the powerful use of words. On this day, we ask: Will you use your words to help lift others up, or to knock them down?

Dr. Angelou said it best when she said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Let us strive to uplift each other, and continue to find ways we can work together to make this world a better place.