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
Over this last week we have looked at how a commitment to civility and more widespread use of the communication tools that mediators use can make a difference in our national politics. During the US government shut-down, it was reported (NYT 10/101/13) that Bruce Josten, a lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce, was making the rounds advising Democrats and Republicans alike that
The name calling, blame gaming – using slurs like jihadists, terrorist, cowards, that kind of language – it does not get you to a deal . . .
As ABA Resolution 108 warned, that kind of language appeals to and inflames personal hates and resentments, promotes division, and leads to stalemates. We can change. By using stories of wisdom that emphasize our interdependence and other mediation techniques in our personal and public conversations we can begin to heal some of the partisan divides and work through the complex issues that affect our future together. In his remarks to the nation, the president quoted our pledge of allegiance “One nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”. Is it possible? We can certainly do better.
Ongoing progress requires not just vigilance in changing destructive patterns of communication, it will require ongoing commitment to the rule of law. Writing in his recent book “American Lawyers“, Paul D. Carrington observed
The law is really the main thread in the fabric of organized society. It is the compulsory part of the rules men have arrived at for living together. There is dignity and pride in dealing with the law. Our great public buildings, capitols, and courts, are designed to express that dignity. They are the homes of government and law. And government itself is law.
This country’s lawyers and dispute resolution professionals are uniquely equipped to help us find a way forward – resolving problems rather than simply quarreling with periodic respites over the same issues.
Commit to leading wherever you can, with civility, and with the rule of law as your foundation.
Posted in democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Online, Our Tools, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged civil discourse, civil public discourse, civility, critical thinking, democracy, government, mediation week, politics, rule of law, United States
Sarah, who is an active member of the ABA, is pleased to again co-sponsor a mediation week event with the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri’s School of Law, and the Association of Missouri Mediators. Both of these organizations have long been involved in “bridging differences in positions, perspectives and people through mediation”, which is the focus of this year’s mediation week. This event will also be streamed on-line.
We also welcome the end of the government shut-down. With that experience behind us we can always hope that we will move towards a political culture with less brinksmanship, name-calling, misinformation, and shortsightedness. In addition to reviewing ABA Resolution 108, we would recommend two of William Ury’s books – Getting Past No, and The Power of A Positive No – to all who would like to improve the ways we work through difficult issues. All of us, citizens and elected leaders alike, can work to make our politics more effective.
Posted in democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Online, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged civil discourse, civil public discourse, civility, democracy, Dialogue, government, mediation, politics, United States
Yesterday we wrote about how a commitment to civility and more widespread use of the communication tools that mediators use can make a difference in our national politics. Today we look at the importance of critical thinking. Critical thinking requires ongoing and systematic analysis of how we are thinking so we can improve how we evaluate, use, and integrate different kinds of information. This extends also to thinking about how we communicate our thoughts, and how we receive and process what we hear. In a world of sound bites, competing and biased narratives, and positional maneuvering, critical thinking is “critical” to finding our way.
One resource I really like and have used in several dialogue contexts to help participants think about how and what they are communicating is the “Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools” booklet from The Foundation for Critical Thinking Thinker’s Guide Library. As is noted in the very beginning of that booklet, without the effort to think critically, much of our thinking is “biased, distorted, uninformed, or downright prejudiced”. As the authors go on to note, this is dangerous because “the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life.”
The stages of critical thinking outlined in the booklet align well with the “data to wisdom continuum.” Both tools can be used to help participants generate questions about where they are, what they know, and what they don’t know and would like to explore further. Developing these types of questions helps people move from simply trading talking points, to more productive dialogue. Another great resource to check out is FlackCheck.org. Here you can review some of the common ways information is manipulated or distorted when reported through the media, illustrated with real life video examples. Our post series on cognitive errors also works well with this resource.
The educator John Dewey observed that “Democracy needs to be reborn in each generation and education is its midwife.” As Dan Yankelovich has pointed out, our national problem solving capacity has eroded as our collective ability to think critically together has declined. By integrating educational tools like those above into our dialogues we can help to restore that capacity.
Posted in democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Online, Our Tools, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged civility, critical thinking, democracy, government, mediation week, politics, United States
On August 8, 2011 Resolution 108, which reaffirms the principle of civility as a foundation for democracy and the rule of law, was unanimously adopted at the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting. Although directed towards lawyers, it summarizes much of what is needed to turn our civic conversations toward productive dialogue and away from rancorous partisan contests. In the words of the supporting text,
“Words matter. How we treat each other matters. In our public discourse, it is time to begin talking to each other with mutual respect.”
The resolution urges all those involved in government, as well as citizens,
“to strive toward a more civil public discourse in the conduct of political activities and in the administration of the affairs of government.”
The supporting text sets forth some concrete steps that will be familiar to most dialogue proponents — tone down the rhetoric; demonstrate respect for opposing views; listen to the needs, interests and concerns that underlie those views; try to identify common ground on which a mutually acceptable solution might be built; and try to actually engage on issues rather than merely score political points (p. 7). “To actually engage on issues”, we believe, includes a willingness to work with data (and to fairly report the context, assumptions and methods behind that data), to analyze consequences and results, and to acknowledge what is working or has worked.
As the text supporting the resolution notes (pp. 2-3), “acrimony and venom” in public discourse endangers the quality of decision-making on complex issues, limits the potential for problem-solving, and undermines the trust needed for effective governance. In the long term, holding each other accountable for how decisions are made can improve our quality of governance.