Category Archives: Resources

Thinking Together

We got to where we are politically today through millions of consumer driven decisions on what information to look at and where. How many of those decisions were driven by a desire to be comfortable, to have one’s worldview or worst fears confirmed?

To move forward, we need to build new ways of sifting through the waves of information pushed at us. One way to do that is to spend time thinking about what you value and where we might go if we work together. This citizen-created guide might help with that.

Another way is to critically evaluate our information sources. There are several sites that help us evaluate our information, both on-line and elsewhere.

Be informed, vote your conscience, and regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election, pledge to get to know and work with your fellow Americans across the political spectrum to get our country back on track. We have more in common than you might think.

Peace and Prosperity: What Will It Take?

We know what brings peace and prosperity. The Institute  for Economics and Peace has been studying that for 13 years, publishing annual “Global Peace Index” and “Positive Peace Index” reports.

The Global Peace Index looks at the presence (or absence) of violence and the threat of violence. The United States is in the bottom half of nations in the GPI.  Our North American neighbor, Canada, is by contrast in the top 10 most peaceful countries. The US score has been declining in the last few years, and in the 2020 report, the US is ranked 121 out of 163 countries. You can explore current and past rankings for the US and other countries here.

The lack of peace has a cost.  Overall economic losses related to violence or the threat of violence include direct costs to people and property and also losses related to productivity shortfalls and adverse effects on consumption and spending patterns. As the 2020 GPI report states, “Expenditures on preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence divert public and private resources away from productive activities and towards protective measures.” The Institute estimates the economic cost of violence in the United States at 8% of GDP. 

More peace means more money for a country’s citizens to flourish.  The Institute also studies the factors that lead to greater peace, referring to these as “positive peace.”  Key factors of a peaceful and prosperous society include: equal distribution of resources, free flow and quality of information, low levels of corruption, a sound business environment and well-functioning governments.

High levels of Positive Peace strengthen a country’s resilience “to absorb, adapt and recover from shocks, such as COVID-19 and the ensuing recession.” (GPI 2020 Report, p. 4).  Here the US scores higher, ranking 26 out of 163 (PPI Report 2019, 26-27) — although its scores are declining here as well.  Attention to and strengthening our performance on the positive peace factors could enhance our recovery. 

The US is often said to be the wealthiest country in the world, so it’s not our lack of natural assets that contribute to our lower rankings on the peace indices (or other indices of social well-being such as the Social Progress Index).

As our country starts to recover from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to build a more peaceful and prosperous country.  This will require taking a hard look at how we allocate our resources, particularly between production and protection, and rebuilding trust between citizens and their government.

We know what to do. Will we?

*Thank you to Vincent Leloux, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from Germany who interned with us in Spring, 2020 before returning home, for his help with this post.

How Do We Want It To Be?

There is an simple solution to every human problem – easy, plausible, and wrong.” H.L. Mencken

It’s easy in our debate-oriented culture to get stuck in an exchange of positions and arguments over who is right or what is wrong.  So how do you move through that?

Here is one question that often works to change the pattern when a conversation starts falling into an unproductive exchange of competing views:

“How would you like it to be?”

This can also be asked in the form of an invitation: “I think we are getting lost in the details, can we talk for a moment of how we would like it to be?”

This question (or invitation) opens a path for dialogue, steering away from debates on who is to blame, or what action should be taken, or whose information is better.  Instead this question/invitation shifts the focus to desired outcomes in a shared future. It invites creativity, invokes values, and offers hope – all in just 7 words.

Then, as you listen to and reflect on the responses to this question, you can further expand the dialogue by asking questions that gently explore definitions of terms used by the speaker (e.g., can you tell me more about your definition of democracy? what do you mean by “a great nation”, who is “we” or “they”?).  You can also ask questions that explore the “why” of the preferred outcomes. And as to any proposed outcome you might also ask “how might we get there”?

Both the opening question and the exploratory questions that follow provide more opportunities than do our standard forms of conversation to make a shared connection  whether to values, to hoped for outcomes, or to the hurts that need healing.

In recent conversations I have had, people across the partisan continuum have expressed concern for their families and a desire to see “more human values” or “respect for human dignity” in our policies. Many also want to “live their lives in peace”.  They connect with each other as they share stories and imagine a better future for us all. That connection is what is needed to help us work through the difficult issues together.

In our next post we will look further at the issue of pursuing both peace and prosperity, what the data tells us, and how that data can be used in building an ongoing dialogue.

Yes Dialogue Is Hard. Here Are Some Resources.

If we are going to live well together, we need to learn how to talk with each other.  Not at each other, not past each other, but with each other. This is hard to do because it’s not how we’re taught.

We’re often taught to assert our views and to dismiss those with which we disagree. The patterns of debate, deflection, distortion, and simple dismissal regularly appear in the news, social media, political discourse, and even in many day to day interactions. We need new patterns.

Here are some resources that can help:

  • Having difficulty talking with friends and relatives about race and social justice?  Review “White Allies: Your Anger Belongs in the Streets, Not at Home” by Dr. David Campt. He clearly summarizes what not to do, and provides a 5 step process for more productive dialogue.
  • Do conspiracy theories derail your attempts at dialogue?  Review “How to Talk to Conspiracy Theorists and Still Be Kind” by Tanya Basu in the MIT Technology Review. She too gives you some clear guidelines for engagement.
  • Not sure what productive dialogue looks like? Review the programs, tips and tools at Braver Angels, a group working to “depolarize America”.
  • Need some practice in a low risk environment?  Once again we recommend the New York Times “Angry Uncle Bots.”

All these resources illustrate that dialogue starts with relationship – you have to care for and value your connection with those you wish to engage.  Dialogue also requires respect for views that differ from yours. This doesn’t mean agreement with those views,  but it does mean showing an interest in and willingness to consider what others have to say.  And dialogue requires self-control.  Yes it may feel good in the moment to rant or vent, but that will only set you back.  Scoring “points” through clever put downs and firing off the evidence supporting your position will only invite defensiveness.  What does work is listening, asking questions that show both your care for and your interest in the person you are talking to, and reflecting back your understanding of what you have heard before sharing your own thoughts.

Yes dialogue is hard, and you can do this!

If you have questions you would like to ask about dialogue or additional resources you would like to share, post comments below or send us an email at info@buildingdialogue.com.

Lessons From Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany was formed in the wake of one of the most infamous dictatorships in history – the Third Reich. That dictatorship was made possible when leaders in the Weimar Republic effectively eliminated legislative oversight of the Executive Branch. Without such oversight, Hitler acted quickly to consolidate his power and limit civil liberties, leading to the death of millions.

Given this history, it is not surprising that a key focus of the German post-war constitution was ensuring sufficient and ongoing oversight of the Executive Branch. The Bundestag – which is analogous to the United States House of Representatives – exercises this oversight power. As is stated in its public relations guide, Facts: The Bundestag at a glance, the Bundestag “exercises an important power of scrutiny over the Government. No Chancellor or government minister can escape this scrutiny.” Specifically,

  • The executive branch is “required to keep the Bundestag regularly informed of its plans and intentions.”

  • The Bundestag also has the right to appoint committees of inquiry, and it is required to do so if one quarter of its members request it.  The role of these committees is to “investigate possible abuses in government and administration and possible misconduct on the part of politicians. “

  • The committees of inquiry can order the executive branch to submit files, and call government representatives as witnesses.

  • Other parliamentary groups can also demand written information on particular issues, and these can lead to “parliamentary debates in which the Government is required to present its case and answer questions.”

  • Even individual members “can submit written questions to the Government, and government representatives are required to give direct answers to those questions” at question and answer sessions with ministers at scheduled times.

Germany is not the only country that has experienced a struggle between its democracy and a leader who resists oversight.  The book How Democracies Die, details multiple instances of democracies in both Europe and South America that were undermined and diminished by autocratic leaders who rejected legislative oversight and denied the legitimacy of their political opponents.  It is not uncommon for an autocratic leader to dismiss oversight efforts as subversive, criminal, disloyal, or opposed to constitutional order.  Legislative oversight is not, however, a departure from our constitutional order.  Legislative oversight is one of the foundations of a democratic government.

How robust is our democracy? That depends on us. As the authors of How Democracies Die point out, “Democratic institutions depend crucially on the willingness of governing parties to defend them – even against their own leaders.”  That means speaking up for democratic values and democratic institutions.  Critical thinking, independent judgment, a willingness to review information from many different sources, the ability to defuse appeals to hate and fear, and dialogue across partisan lines both by citizens and parties,  are all important tools for strengthening our democracy. If you care about your freedom and your democracy, use them, and request that your elected representatives do so as well.