The events last Saturday in Charlottesville have reminded us of our country’s continuing, deep discomfort with fulfilling the promise of social parity across race lines.
Brené Brown, a professor of sociology at University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, used Facebook Live on Tuesday, August 15 to share her thoughts on the subject.
(Some will recognize Professor Brown from her very popular TED talks on shame.)
Brown speaks about the power of owning our stories: when we own our story we get to write the ending; otherwise the story owns us.
She applies the concept to our collective society – America can own its painful and discomforting narrative as a country founded on white supremacy, and write a new ending; otherwise, that narrative will continue in a far more painful and discomforting manner.
She describes the three P’s of owning our national story:
Brown’s talk illustrates what our Civil Dialoguers have been learning about framing, identification, and non-violent communication. She calls us to be brave, to hold the conversation even though our imperfect attempts may be used against us, to shame us. We make ourselves better by trying.
A little light reading...
And here’s more food for thought for you Civil Dialoguers, three brief articles in a downloadable PDF:
• Unpacking the Invisible Backpack of Privilege (Peggy McIntosh)
• I Can Fix It (damali ayo)
• The Fears of White People (Robert Jensen)
From Susan Dobra:
David's analysis in his previous post (Civil Diablog, 6/12/17 "Marginal Commentary") is a great addendum to our discussion at the Civil Dialogue Guild meeting this past Sunday, June 18, in which we compared traditional formal debate in the Ciceronian tradition with current public discourse in the talk radio tradition as a way in to understanding George Lakoff's insights about framing discourse, from his book, Don't Think of an Elephant.
His "moral": "The truth alone will not set you free. It has to be framed correctly."
The five of us present (two of whom have had experience running for town councils) had a great discussion about how to use these insights not to "win" an argument but rather to seek out differing and possibly shared perspectives--or at least to understand how different frames will yield different views of the same facts.
We brainstormed some possible frames for current issues like health care and regulations, and agreed to bring to our next meeting a few more examples of how different frames yield different insights.
We agreed to meet next on Sunday, July 23rd from 4 to 6, with more thoughts on the "ends" of civil dialogue, be they persuasion, mutual understanding, or identification with each other or with a particular "group." More to come.
Our recent dialogues have centered on mind frames and the skills of reframing arguments by shared values. (Susan Dobra will take us for a deep dive into the work of George Lakoff on this subject at our next meeting.)
So I had frames in mind when I read an article in the June 8 online edition of The Washington Post, "How cable news networks reacted to Comey's hearing." The article explains how MSNBC, CNN and FOX camera coverage looked the same, but were quite different in their use of chyrons -- those ticker tapes that roll info past the bottom third of the TV screen, sometimes as a commentary to the main action. It's fascinating to read how news can be framed to lead audiences to draw conclusions intended by the specific news channel, simply by what is introduced into evidence, or left out, via chyron.
I was reminded of my childhood love for Mad Magazine. I was fascinated by those irreverent cartoons, and especially by what took place in the margins of them -- funny sequences drawn by Sergio Aragonés, a Cuban cartoonist living in exile in New York. My young mind would make connections from these tiny cartoons to the main action, revealing another meaning to the main goings on -- no doubt as Aragonés intended I would. In college I learned a term to describe this phenomena: marginal commentary.
As we've discussed, how we perceive factual data can be influenced by how that data is presented to us. Bias can show up in the sequence of presentation, in the weight one fact is given over against another, in neglecting a fact, in the company that information keeps, etc.
There's a marvelous book that explains about as well as possible what's going on here, and it is not a work of psychology, sociology, or politics. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud is a masterpiece of the philosophy of what we see and how we interpret it. We are built to find the meaning in everything -- sometimes even where there is none. It's a talent that can be manipulated.
McCloud demonstrated how scant information could be universalized more easily than hyper-specific information. Think of the difference between the everyman Charlie Brown, and Prince Valiant, who can never be anyone but himself. The more detail you leave out, the more we tend to supply the missing information.
But go a step further. Lets say all we have is two dots, a circle, and a half circle. What meaning do we make with those? Why should they represent anything to us at all? But we can't help ourselves, can we. We're compelled to project our feelings onto even the simplest arrangement of geometric forms.
And what if we ran a chyron under that? Oh, the stories we can tell...
Susan Dobra will moderate our meeting on Sunday, June 18, 4-6PM. She wants us to chew on this "killer question" in the meantime:
As citizens of a democracy, is it our duty to try to persuade each other as to what we think the best policies are?
Or is it more important to simply understand and respect our differences (leaving whoever is currently in power the right to set policy)?
Put on your genius caps and come prepared to share your opinion!
Our fourth meeting for the Guild for Civil Dialogue took place on Sunday, May 17 with five participants -- three regulars and two newcomers.
(Plenty of folks got in touch in advance to say they'd be out of town or otherwise engaged for this one -- we look forward to seeing them next time!)
Doors opened at 3:30PM. We shared some good food and modest beverages, and took some time to get caught up on doings of our culture over the past month.
David introduced the topic, "Mind Frames / Re-Framing Conversations" with a Pearls Before Swine cartoon that was sent to him anonymously last month, and then shared a modest bit of activism he took on to alert the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to it's abusive use of "disgust" language to drive donations.
We discussed how challenging it is to experience the feeling of disgust over positions we disagree on -- the latest House bill on healthcare came to mind -- and at the same time how unleashing the emotional charge of disgust can further polarize us. "You don't punch the kid on the playground just because he looked at you funny."
Some of us shared stories of interactions with people who were doing something that summoned our contempt, and how we re-framed the circumstance with an act of understanding and compassion. These were important reminders that we all have that useful capacity for empathy to draw from.
In this vein we watched the "Worlds Apart" video from Heineken which, dear Reader, you are highly encouraged to experience.
Next we briefly reviewed slides provided by Susan Dobra (who couldn't be with us) that outline George Lakoff's theory of framing to evoke civil dialogue. We all agreed it was rich stuff that really could use more unpacking by Susan -- hence our topic for next month's meeting will be "Mind Frames / Re-Framing Conversations, Part II," led by Susan. (David will be absent.)
We watched a short video on Ann Arbor's A2Ethics "Big Ethical Question Slam" as a refresher. David relayed that he's reached out to Mobilize Chico's Anti-Polarization subcommittee to gauge their interest in partnering with us on the Slam, date TBD. We'll contact A2Ethics to start the planning process.
Our next meeting is Sunday, June 18 at the usual time. Come prepared to share from your experiences with civil dialogue!
I received this in today's mail. No return address. No idea who sent it.
For our mutual edification?
[Click to enlarge]
Civil Dialoguer Lisa Flores shared this wonderful video with me today. We may use it for an upcoming meeting. Enjoy!
Our third meeting of the Guild for Civil Politics took place on Sunday, 4/23/17, with 13 participants, 7 of them first-timers.
Doors opened at 3:30PM. A few of us gathered to share a little conversation with light fare and drink.
The meeting started at 4PM. David reviewed our work from the previous two meetings, and we agreed on the proposed agenda for this meeting.
David introduced the topic "Getting Past Disagreement to Understanding, a.k.a. How Do You Have a Worthwhile Conversation With Someone With Whom You Disagree?" by reading a selection from Madison's essay on factions in The Federalist Papers, number 10 (posted previously in this blog).
Learning from our previous meetings, we broke into groups of 3 or 4 to (1) introduce ourselves to each other, (2) share any civil dialogue situations/outcomes from the previous month, and (3) describe what techniques we've found useful in having a conversation with someone with whom we disagree.
We reconvened and each group shared their wisdom. Some themes:
• Keep in mind that most of us are trying our best.
• It helps to re-frame the conversation with things we share in common.
• Another way to re-frame is to do something you may both enjoy.
• Sometimes conversations go awry -- sometimes you have to walk away.
• It helps to get curious: what's behind the other opinion?
As we continued to explore these themes we came back to a central question:
Why do we think we want civil discourse? This can be hard work. What's in it for us?
We recognize that as voters there is an incentive there to convince our fellow voters to go along with our viewpoints.
Personal world views can supply qualitatively different motivations for dialogue. These may have religious, humanitarian, Darwinian or other expressions. If we aren't aware of how our own personal philosophies have shaped our views, it may be difficult to appreciate how another's is shaped.
David shared his default philosophy as an example, and challenged the group to pay attention over the coming month to how personal philosophy enters into civil dialogue.
Those gathered affirmed interest in producing a Big Ethical Question Slam in the fall of this year, modeled after A2Ethics events.
We agreed to change our thinking about "rules of the road" for our group. Instead we will frame up some best practices and use these as a positive guide that should serve our Guild for Civil Dialogue and life in general.
Our next meeting is Sunday, May 21 at the usual time. Our theme will be: "Mind Frames / Re-framing Conversations." Come prepared to share what you've learned about how your personal philosophy enters into your conversations!
As a reminder, our next meeting is Sunday, April 23, 4-6PM at Norton Buffalo Hall.
If you'd like to join us a little early -- 3:30PM -- and bring some potluck-y light fare and drink to share, please do. Enjoying food and drink are, after all, a few of the things we have in common!
Our topic, chosen at our last meeting:
"Getting Past Disagreement To Understanding," a.k.a. How do we have a dialogue with somebody who is opposed to our point of view...and get something worthwhile out of it? Think on that, and come prepared with your wisdom to share.
We may not yet be ready for a "rules of the road" conversation as, with apologies, I did not meet with Arthur and Pennie to produce a proposal. It's been a busy and challenging month! Nonetheless, some samples for discussion will be available (should worse turn to worse!).
Last, let's take 5-10 minutes to talk about whether and how we might work toward our own Big Ethical Question Slam in the fall.
Again, you can always check in with our web page for future topics, resources, and our blog at http://www.nortonbuffalohall.com/civil.html.
See you then --
"By faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
"There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.
"There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.
"It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy that it was worse than the disease....
"The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise...
"The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man...A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government...an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good."
--The Federalist Papers, No. 10 (attributed to James Madison), 1787