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
Last week on a call with others who are working on “naming and framing” various issues in their communities, someone asked for recommendations on how to sort the notes of various volunteers into a summary document that would be useful. As we discussed on the call, one simple low cost approach is to set up a spreadsheet (using a platform like Google Drive allows for easy sharing) that corresponds to the five sources of conflict. As they take notes, volunteers can code them (V = values, S = structure, R= relationships, IN = interests, and IF = information) and then sort those later into the corresponding sections of the spreadsheet. Levels of intensity can also be marked on the notes with a + corresponding to higher levels of emotion and ++indicating an even higher level of tension evidenced by “us v. them” language and active expressions of threat or fear.
As a baseline, those coordinating a project might map what they expect to hear based on sources like newspapers and blogs and then, as notes are entered, analyze whether what they are hearing confirms or challenges those expectations. Other sources external to meetings or planned dialogues could also be captured and compared throughout a project.
Another tool we have used to track dialogues is to sort comments and questions into a grid tracking “What” (what topics are coming up, what themes are appearing, what information is being used, what values are referenced, what tensions are present; what regulatory or other limitations exist, etc.); “Who” (who is present, who is missing, who is referenced, who would be affected, who can help, etc.); “How” (how would we accomplish that, what resources are available, how can they be accessed, and “Why?” (this category encompasses mission, and vision (why are we doing this?), ideal scenarios (why not dream big?), and creative thinking (“why not do this a different way?)). Grouping things this way during a discussion has the added benefit of helping the facilitator in real time identify, sort, and sequence questions in ways that promote effective group discussion.
A complementary process that might be used as volunteers report in, particularly to capture new people and organizations being brought in, ideas generated, and actions taken, would be to track those through ripple mapping. In any event, planning questions or categories in advance that help you “harvest data as you go along” will make the job of compilation and analyzing what you have much easier!
How do you know whether your civic engagement efforts are working or not? How do you know where to start? Is there sufficient trust to begin deliberation on a difficult issue, or do you need to build trust first? How do you know if civic engagement would help or hurt? Research has shown that civic engagement can increase trust leading to
- increased civic participation
- increased capacity for collective action
- enhanced responsiveness of government, and
- greater social cohesion across groups within a community.
Conversely, poor public engagement can erode trust, and even lead to political retaliation or increased division within the community. (Gaventa and Barrett, Oct. 2010. So What Difference Does It Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement. Institute of Development Studies).
In one of our Spring calls we reviewed our Civic Health Diagnostic Workbook and several other resources people are using in their efforts to measure outcomes of civic engagement and ensure that those build, rather than erode, trust. Our workbook is specifically designed to help civic leaders turn their subjective interpretations of community strengths and weaknesses into a data set that can be monitored.
Another tool we like is the “4 cores of trust” checklists in The Speed of Trust. These can be adapted to apply to community interactions, and the concepts of “trust dividends” or “trust taxes” which are also outlined in the book are concepts that we find groups readily understand and are interested in discussing. We have found that introducing these concepts by drawing a continuum of tax to dividend (with definitions), and asking citizens to mark where they think the community is and why can spark some very interesting discussions.
Several other tools for developing an effective system for evaluating trust in your community were recommended during the call. These included The Empowerment Manual, using ripple mapping to measure both how people are taking action or taking on new roles because of engagement, and resources from Living Cities.
If you have had success with a particular resource, or have a question about evaluating trust, we invite you to share that in the comments.
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Measuring Outcomes, Our Tools, Our Work, Resources
Tagged citizen engagement, civic engagement, data, engagement, evalaution, mapping, measurement, Trust
In this post, we continue to look at things that public officials sometimes do which erode trust. The following 5 behaviors round out our list of 10:
6. Presenting false choices: Presenting limited “either/or” choices– particularly when the “options” are overstated or when neither is of much interest to the public — while ignoring or limiting discussion of other options that are available, inevitably leads to an erosion of trust. This erosion is generally evidenced by citizens complaining of “poor leadership” or “lack of vision.” In our own home city in the recent past, voters were told that they had to approve new funds for improving sewer infrastructure downtown or “no new development could occur.” The funding issue did not pass. Development downtown continues. Leaders suggest it was all a misunderstanding due to “poor information”. The resulting decline in trust continues to reverberate through other issues.
7. Misleading statistics: I recently heard a local elected official quote an inflammatory statistic without any context and then declare “Now that’s reality!” Actually numbers devoid of context and without any explanation of how they were calculated (starting point, end points, methodology, exclusions, etc.) are pretty much meaningless. And most of the public knows that. The public continues to be interested though in information that is fairly presented as shown by the success of the Marquette Law Poll.
8. Saying one thing and doing another: This one needs no explanation. When the “action” also benefits groups that are perceived as monied special interests distrust becomes active cynicism.
9. Dismissing portions of the public: How many times have you heard a civic leader say something like this about a group that disagrees with one or more proposals on the table: “They’re just a small group”; they’re not well informed”; “they’re just against progress”, or even worse “they’re not the ones that matter”. None of this builds community. One doesn’t have to agree with a group to acknowledge their concerns and share other information, to sympathize with emotions, or to recognize their voices should be heard. There is always some level of the message being offered that can draw a response which demonstrates respect. Respect builds trust; disrespect erodes it.
10. Grandstanding: There are many ways in which officials pander to the interests of a particular group, generating distrust among others in the community. This includes championing options that are simply not feasible. One example would be encouraging the public to demand that a building site that is privately owned and being developed be instead used as a “public park” even though there are no public funds available for purchase, the owner has already contracted for sale, and the property is legally zoned for development. Other examples of “grandstanding” include dramatic gestures such as county officials ordering flags to be flown at half-mast to protest a court decision that they dislike, or an elected leader demanding to know why the public is not more “outraged” by the “disgusting” or “vile” action that a person or organization on the other side of the political spectrum has said or done. Most of the public correctly dismisses such grandstanding as “sound and fury, signifying nothing”; and refuses to engage.
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Working With Conflict
Tagged build trust, building trust, civic engagement, Dialogue, errors in civic engagement, false choices, grandstanding, integrity, respect, Trust, working with the public