A Metaphor From The Midwest
Once you have your field, the next step in preparing for the harvest is to till, or cultivate, the soil. This means preparing the soil for planting, which includes both plowing to break up the soil and fertilizing to add nutrients. Both of these help the seeds you subsequently plant to grow.
In our political field, trust – a respect and belief in the integrity, good intentions, and capabilities of others – is the soil that helps us grow and flourish as a society. The trends discussed in our last post have depleted our communal trust. Using the rubric of “trust taxes” and “trust dividends” described in Stephen Covey’s “Speed of Trust“, these trends have resulted in a destructive tax on the citizenry. This is evidenced through the growing number of citizens who view those not of their own political party as “the enemy”, the excessive defensive posturing and legal positioning by our political parties, and the general level of venom used in discussing differences of interest or information. All of these factors suggest a “trust tax” of 60% or more. This is a very high burden.
So how might we use dialogue to remediate some of the damage that has been done? Below are three actions that can help break up the hard crust of fear and anger that has formed, followed by two that can help prepare the ground for new growth.
- Invite. Invite others into dialogue. Simply choosing to use dialogue rather than debate – to move beyond the right/wrong, win/lose framing used in debate and actually explore the complexities of intersecting issues — is a step towards building trust. By choosing dialogue you are moving from an “Us” v. “You” competitive dynamic into a more inclusive “we are in this together and will be stronger together” partnership and problem solving mode. You might begin by acknowledging differences in values or interests while also exploring similarities, by exploring the different questions being asked, or by comparing and evaluating the different sources of information that are being used. An invitation can be as simple as asking questions like “How would we like it to be? Why?” Although you can introduce dialogue in everyday conversation, there are also many resources and organized efforts you can connect to and invite others to join. Two current efforts include the Kettering Foundation’s annual “A Public Voice” collaboration and the Better Angels “One America” bus tour.
- Align. If you are going to invite others into dialogue, once you are there you need to act like you mean it. The communication patterns that promote dialogue are the opposite of competing factions spitting “trigger words” at each other or ridiculing, rather than engaging with, other points of view. No one likes to be attacked, dismissed, or shamed. If you are going to sustain a dialogue, you will need to act in ways that show interest in, and care and concern for, the others in dialogue. This means aligning your comments with a focus on the relationship, not just the issue being discussed. You can also think about how to align your narratives and questions with stories of wisdom and the common good.
- Listen: Often we ‘listen’ simply to find the gap in the conversation in which we might insert our own views, or to harvest fragments of statements to use in our rejoinder. This is not what we mean by “Listen”. Instead we mean listening in ways that attend to the speaker. This includes reflecting back an understanding of the speaker’s emotions and concerns, and inviting further thoughts on what might help the speaker move forward. This kind of reflective listening calms emotions and enhances the speaker’s ability to process new information. It also strengthens relationships and builds trust by demonstrating respect for the speaker’s presence in the dialogue.
- Educate. John Dewey once said, “Democracy must be reborn in every generation and education is its midwife.” Oliver Wendell Holmes observed that “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” As the last election showed, many citizens lack an understanding of how their government actually works, use very different sources of information, are unsure of their own ability to influence the decisions that are made, and might benefit from additional skills in the areas of communication and critical thinking. Dialogue can help in all of these areas. Note that in dialogue, education occurs through asking open-ended questions, sharing resources and experiences, and inviting reflection, not through lecturing or proselytizing.
- Commit. Studies in different fields demonstrate that taking personal responsibility for one’s views and actions improves how information is processed, shared and evaluated. It also builds trust. This kind of commitment and willingness to be accountable for what one says and does is aligned with sincerity. It is the opposite of the “bullshit” discussed in the last post. Taking responsibility for what you think and say, admitting what you don’t know, and inviting others to do the same, is the essence of effective dialogue.
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, politics, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged Best Practices, communication, community, Dialogue, facilitation, government, political discourse, politics, teaching, thinking, Trust, United States
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1958
During this last election cycle, the rhetoric form both political parties has reflected the patterns of hate. Although division, distrust, and rancor between political parties is not new, it is worsening. This trend is a threat to our ability to grow our economy, preserve our freedoms, and provide opportunities for all Americans to thrive.
We as citizens hold the power to stop the slide. If you are willing to change the way you talk and listen, and demand the same of both those who would seek to represent you, and of the media you consume, our country’s divides would begin to heal.
The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me. Afro and White, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, our fates are bound together. We can run from each other but we cannot escape each other. We will only attain freedom if we learn to appreciate what is different and muster the courage to discover what is fundamentally the same. America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity. Take a chance, won’t you? Knock down the fences that divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison. Reach out, freedom lies just on the other side. We should have liberty for all. – Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1992
If you believe in the aphorism “united we stand, divided we fall,’ reach out and start a new conversation. Use dialogue not debate. Listen for and share the stories of wisdom that can illuminate our next steps.
At this time when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify -as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize – is more important than ever. – President Barack Obama, 2017
Take a chance won’t you?
Posted in Dialogue
Tagged communication, community, democracy, divides, government, hate, healing, Martin Luther King Jr, partisan, peace, politics, stories of wisdom, storytelling
Patriot – “One who loves his country and zealously guards its welfare.” Webster’s Concise Dictionary of the English Language, 1997
On this July 4 we look back at Resolution 108, passed by the American Bar Association, in 2011. The ABA warned then that “political discourse continues to spiral to unprecedented levels of acrimony and venom”, and that “orderly debate all too often is giving way to invective, distortion and gamesmanship”. Six years later the tension and heat in many quarters have only increased.
Why should we care? As the report behind the resolution points out, a toxic political discourse leaves citizens frustrated, disillusioned, and angry; the problems of our society go unsolved; the rule of law is threatened, and some turn to violence.
If we care about the health and future of our country, then we need to focus on how we talk with each other – as individuals, as political parties, and government and citizens. Three things we can do, especially as individuals and citizens:
- Ask Questions. The questions to ask are open-ended ones, not the sarcastic “Why are you so stupid?’ or “Who knew you were so dumb?” questions often used to shut down others. Open ended questions sound like “I’m curious as to why you would say that, can you tell me more?”, “What information are you relying on?”, “What do you fear would happen and why?” These questions invite further dialogue if sincerely asked and the answers received with some level of respect for the speaker. Sometimes the best questions to open-up the conversation are simply definitional – “how do you define ‘being an American?'” “what do you mean by “conservative”/”liberal”?” Other times a question that simply focuses forward can change the conversation, for example, “What would you like to see happen over time? Why?”
- Speak-Up for Civility And Model It Yourself. We don’t support bullies in schools and we shouldn’t in our public life either. Bullies often back down if someone standing by is willing to call them out. What if more of us were willing to speak up and also to vote against bullying behavior even by those politicians with whom we agree? Or if we actually rewarded efforts at more informed and civil discourse at the polls? We can also plant the seeds for more civic discourse in our conversations with friends and family by speaking up and responding to hateful or bullying speech. Simple phrases like “that kind of speech is not helpful”, “if we can’t speak civilly I will leave”, or “I love you and have experiences that give me a different perspective, which I hope some day we can share”, may not immediately change the speaker, although they can change the course of the conversation over time. Speaking up often will encourage others present to respond in constructive ways as well.
- Learn and Use “Stories of Wisdom.” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “Hate doesn’t drive out hate. Only love can do that.” Much of our political discourse is hateful. Recognize those patterns and avoid responding in kind. Stories of wisdom offer an alternative pattern, one that can help you to both acknowledge the underlying concerns that affect us all and re-frame divisive arguments.
How does a patriot talk about the problems that face our country? With care, with compassion, with a willingness to learn, and with the hope that if we listen to each other and work together we can heal our divides and improve our future.
Posted in democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue
Tagged civil discourse, civil public discourse, civility, democracy, Dialogue, diatribe, governance, mediation, patriots, politics, rule of law, shutdown, United States
Earlier this month we published a new e-book, “Understanding the Facilitation Cycle.” This is the first in a series we are calling “Facilitation Analytics,” short guides that provide practical, focused insights you and your team can use immediately.
On April 8, Sarah also presented at the Annual Conference of the American Bar Association’s Section of Dispute Resolution with Conna Weiner on the topic of Unpacking, Mapping and Evaluating Conflict. You can download their written remarks here.
Posted in Announcements, Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Online, Our Tools, Our Work, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged analytics, e-books understanding conflict, evaluating conflict, facilitation, guides, mapping conflict, Tools
Last month I was sitting with friends and discussing recent events at the University of Missouri. One of those present – an African American – said with sadness “it’s getting to the point where I hope there isn’t another African-American president in my life-time. I don’t remember it ever being this bad.” Another member of the group replied: “Sometimes you have to lance an infection so it can heal. What first comes out is ugly but that’s what starts the healing.”
Since then I have been thinking about wound care, and what we as facilitators can learn from it.
First, like an infected wound, unresolved conflict festers. When lanced, or when the stitches previously put in place are pulled, there is often an explosion, and at least a quick leeching out, of the infectious agents and residue. Opening the wound allows this not just to be released; it allows the infectious agents to be examined and removed, and the infected site to be cleaned and treated.
The worst infections are healed through “open wound care.” This is a slow process, requiring constant care and vigilance, until the surrounding tissue begins to heal itself from the inside out. When that happens the tissue becomes lively and vibrant. Still check-ins are needed at regular intervals to prevent the infection from recurring.
Healing an infected wound takes considerable time, setbacks are not uncommon. Patience and perseverance are required.
Even when the wound seems to be healing well – or closes on the surface, pockets of infection may remain. Ongoing monitoring is still required, and use of the surrounding muscle may cause pain. There is a need to go slow, to remain vigilant, and to be patient.
We have a long history of hate. Dialogue can help us heal. Yet that dialogue needs to be ongoing, consciously worked at, not sporadic. Vigilant monitoring with a readiness to intervene when needed is required to sustain progress and restore us to to health. In this season of peace and hope it is worth remembering that we each have the power to speak up, to pursue dialogue with others, and to disturb the patterns of hate when we hear them. Working together we can make 2016 a better, healthier year.
“America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity. Take a chance won’t you? Knock down the fences which divide.” – Justice Thurgood Marshall
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Working With Conflict
Tagged Conflict, Dialogue, hate, healing, patience, perseverance, vigilance