Tag Archives: partisan divides

Pursuing the “American Dream”

In a recent dialogue class for older students we were discussing the “American Dream” and how this concept shifted over time from a dream based in community (“with liberty and justice for all”) to one rooted in more individually focused consumerism, with a particular focus on home ownership. In previous discussions members of the class had expressed a concern for loss of community and expressed dismay at our bitterly partisan politics.  On this day, the class agreed that one dream they had for the next generation was a political system that was less chaotic and divisive, more productive, and one that encouraged individuals and groups to explore ideas, analyze information, and work together.

What might help us move toward that dream?  A place to start is promoting dialogue rather than talking past each other. Another class, held in the Spring of 2018 developed this “citizen’s guide” to encourage just that.  We recommend this guide to anyone interested in more productive political dialogue before, during, and after our upcoming elections.

A More Collaborative Future

One positive outcome of the current political discourse at the national level is that many citizens and leaders are looking for a different approach than partisan bickering.  Cities in particular are experimenting with avoiding partisan divides through more dialogue based approaches.  Recently ICMA asked administrators to predict what local government would look like in 2020.  Those predictions included several that are aligned with the emergence and growth of ongoing dialogue and collaboration between government and citizens. These included:

  • Resident engagement will become the norm.
  • Quality of life and a sense of place will be important to residents.
  • Teamwork and consensus building will be essential skills.
  • Working effectively with diverse and aging populations also will be a major skill.
  • Performance measurement, quality control, and benchmarking will be emphasized.

As we have noted in prior posts, building a more collaborative future takes commitment and learning new skills – both by citizens and those in government.  It can be hard to discern when and where to start, and what tools are needed to have an effective dialogue.  Efforts to just “get citizens together” often turn into what one recent meeting participant we met  called a “primal scream fest”.   He had attended a meeting called by a local official to allow citizens to “discuss their differences”.  There was no preparation beforehand,  no facilitator, and an “open mic” rather than small group dialogue.   Every one “had their say” but little got accomplished and tensions increased.  Such meetings are more likely to delay rather than enhance the use of effective dialogue in a community, although they are not uncommon.  In our next series of posts we will be reviewing how you can assess your community’s readiness for dialogue, and choose the level and type that will help you move forward, towards a more collaborative future.