“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.