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
On February 1, 2017, The Atlantic ran an article titled "The Simple Psychological Trick to Political Persuasion" by Olga Khazan.
It's a valuable intro to a strategy developed from the moral foundations theory of Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues.
That said -- a simple trick? Not so fast!
To review the theory, as I understand it: we humans have evolved psychologically through adaptive group behavior, and in the process developed at least six foundations for morals in much the same way that our tastebuds evolved to detect sweet from bitter, savory from bland, salt from acidic, sour from fresh, etc.
Our "moral tastebuds" detect:
When it comes to politics, it turns out that liberals and conservatives gravitate to different sets of morals from this list. While it may be tempting for one side to call the other's argument immoral, it is very likely that there is simply a competing moral value set at stake.
The "simple" trick to political persuasion, says Khazan, is re-framing our argument with the moral set of our opponent.
I can't imagine anything harder! But please do read the article, and see if what follows makes sense to you.
I agree with Khazan that we've got to try to think through the moral suppositions of our opponents and use the language of their tribe if we are to persuade them (and I thought her examples were modestly helpful).
However, we can't leave our morals behind. Perhaps a very clever person can uncouple heart and head -- I can't.
But even if I could, trying out the moral language of the other side is like learning to speak Cockney when you're Cajun, or vice versa. There's going to be a tell-tale dialect when you first try it.
Then you need to practice, practice, practice until your Pygmalion is just right. And once it is -- don't you become Eliza Doolittle?
In other words, I suspect the effort to understand the other side's argument, and then re-frame one's own in order to persuade, opens a door -- whether by neuro-linguistic programming or empathy -- to transformation.
I suspect most of us intuit this possibility and won't let ourselves go there -- because we're afraid of leaving our morals behind!
But isn't this where the action is?
Our culture is more divided now than in recent memory, in part because we've hunkered down in our respective groups, each around our own unassailable values, locked in a win-lose debate.
It seems to me the only way out is to tune-in to each other, work to develop understanding, and experiment with re-framing our arguments using the language of the opposing tribe.
So, chin up! And repeat after me: "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the..."
We really do need to talk!
Folks who attended our first meeting came with a lot of "steam in our engines" that we each needed to let out.
Those who returned for the second meeting still had plenty of steam, but the newcomers were the ones most in need of having their say.
This makes sense. When someone chooses to attend they're motivated by a need to do something about the "dis-ease" they've been feeling.
Have you noticed that quite a few of us brought examples of the what's gone wrong in our culture, as well as resources for getting it right?
We do well to give that energy a chance for expression.
Naturally, this takes up meeting time, and it doesn't scale. The more people we have, the more time it will take. Giving every heart a chance to unburden can eclipse the other work we've come to do, if we do it one by one.
And yet -- Doh! -- we are about Civil Dialogue, right?
If we are to grow, we'll need harness this urge by giving it a forum in small groups for some part or parts of each gathering.
I envision two or three small group sessions per meeting, with groups of three to five participants:
• The first one is a "Howdi." We break into threes, introduce ourselves to each other, and say what brought us to the meeting. Five minutes?
• We may want a second small group break-out to discuss a current issue, or to seek input about personal exchanges we've had in the last month that we feel we could have done better.
• And when we take up a main topic, we'll want to give participants a chance to talk it over. The larger we are, the more it makes sense to use a small group for that purpose too.
All this energy shows up to do something, so let's put it to work in real dialogue!
Our second meeting of the Guild for Civil Politics took place on Sunday, 3/19/17, with 11 participants, 6 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. After sharing our names, we reviewed our work from the previous month, and agreed on the proposed agenda for the meeting.
David (that's me!) read from Sebastian Junger's 2016 book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. The author tells the story of a conflict over ownership of a plastic viking helmet which he witnessed at a bar in San Fermin during the running of the bulls. With an act of creativity the hat was transformed into a goblet, filled with red wine and shared as an act of reconciliation. Soon the hat was forgotten, and the opponents had become friends. The story illustrates the potential of transcending conflict by affirming communal values. As we contemplate our "rules of the road" I hope we can make room for this transcending, transformative potential.
We decided to relegate the review of rules to a subcommittee, who will return next month with a proposed set.
In the meantime, David (that's me!) shared these hoped-for values-for-the-road, some of which are necessary to Paradise Community Guilds:
• Civil = Mutually constructive. Expect differences, share your view, be positive.
• Dialogue = Open to something new. You might change your mind.
• Ideas are not people + People are not ideas. (Bad ideas ≠ Bad people.)
• Paradise Community Guilds is non-partisan / non-denominational
• Focus on the issues rather than the parties, politicians or candidates.
Some complained that they hadn't received notice for the meeting. An email notice was sent out on 3/12, and again on 3/19. Also, there is a new web page and blog for the Guild for Civil Dialogue that advertised the meeting. Nonetheless, these are new efforts and can be improved. An email signup list was circulated and we'll make sure all attendees addresses are included in future email outreach.
Participants expressed a strong desire to grow this Guild and to maximize its influence; and they were concerned that our marketing efforts were falling short of the aim. Others mentioned the support of the Paradise Chamber of Commerce in promoting our meetings, and the recent Chico ER editorial that praised our effort.
Future efforts will include posting in other online calendars, Eventbrite, as well as occasional press releases and broad emails to our Friends of the Guild list.
Pivoting to our main topic, we first watched a two minute Data Download segment from the 3/19/17 broadcast of NBC's Meet The Press, titled "Is Big Data Destroying The U.S. Political System?" Chuck Todd showed a correlation that explains how the rise of demographic/psychographic modeling in the early 2000's has helped campaign and issue marketers mobilize voters in the middle of our politics to the left and right since then, hollowing out the middle. We recognize that the messaging we get from those who use these techniques is slanted. We must search out the facts for ourselves.
Susan Dobra then led us through a discussion on how to find and agree upon the facts, supported by a handout with a variety of helpful sources (which should appear below this post).
Of particular note was this guidance from Ask Leo! (Leo Notenboom):
First: Understand the problem.
Second: Be skeptical. Always.
Third: Do the work (research).
Fourth: Build a network of more trusted (info) sources.
We recognized the work necessary to get to the facts in our ever-spun media culture. We then went around the room and each named our usual sources of info, listed with a few comments below:
Politifact.com • FactCheck.org • Democracy Now! (on KZFR) • Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) • Newspapers (generally speaking), both conservative and liberal columnists • Bill Maher (HBO) • Talking to people • Late night show monologues (that was a joke, sorta) • KZFR's Chris Nelson and Sue Hildebrand • NPR • Free Speech TV with Tom Hartman • Huffington Post • Local news • Friends on the internet • Lost faith in mainstream media • Mother Jones Magazine • New York Times • Washington Post • Eugene Robinson (WP) • Lawrence O'Donnell (MSNBC) • TheSixtyFive.org • The New Yorker Magazine • The Atlantic Monthly • Harper's Magazine • John Oliver (HBO) • The Bible / God • The more authoritative, the more dangerous • Thoreau said today's Bible is the newspaper • Politics is about rulers • Columbia Journalism Review (CJR.org) • Center for Public Integrity • Breitbart.com • DailyDrudge.com • TheBlaze.com • Mediaite.com • DailyCaller.com • TheDailyBeast.com • Buzzfeed.com • Fox News • PBS News Hour • Hardball with Chris Matthews (MSNBC) • All In With Chris Hayes (MSNBC) • Facebook • TheIntercept.com • Paradise Post • Chico Enterprise-Record
We recognized the challenge this plurality of information sources poses to agreeing on the facts.
We wrapped up a little after 6PM with an agreement that at our next meeting we will review the subcommittee's proposed "rules-of-the-road," and chose as our next topic, "Getting past disagreement to understanding."
At last night's meeting of the new Guild for Civil Dialogue (our second), a participant said she read about us in a Chico Enterprise-Record editorial.
Thank you, Chico ER, for the work you do in helping us "Be the community you want to live in!"
The article is reproduced below.
Editorial: Can the ‘me’ be quiet so the ‘we’ is heard?
3/14/17, Chico Enterprise-Record
Books on humility. Role playing that emphasizes cooperation and finding common ground. University courses on improving civility and understanding.
These are the new building blocks of community. In the wake of the most vicious presidential election in recent history, people are aghast at the demise of civility and orderly disagreement.
But the descent started long before the election. It seems it’s how this country operates now.
Programs try to refresh the Golden Rule and emphasize that disagreement doesn’t boil down to “I’m right, you’re wrong.”
Communities are trying to salvage what’s left of old-fashioned values. They hope to set new standards, or rather go back to old standards that respected all sides.
Plenty of theories exist on why we abandoned courtesy and social responsibility. What launched it isn’t as important as how can it be slowed or even reversed. The pillars of ethics that guided our forefathers, from church to school to parents, don’t have the same roles as they did.
We see bad behavior everywhere.
It’s behind road rage. It’s responsible for booing, shout downs and aggression.
Blending in with the crowd, even if it’s a bad one, seems to work for many.
An organization in Paradise — Paradise Community Guilds — is facing the wave and hoping others will join in the resistance.
A meeting is planned at 4 p.m. Sunday at Norton Buffalo Hall, 5704 Chapel Dr. to talk about conducting life in a more civilized manner.
We’re pretty sure that thousands of meetings and conversations like this are happening throughout the country, but solutions seem to evade us.
Maybe it’s keeping the reminder of politeness in the forefront of our thinking.
Maybe it’s making note of poor behavior and avoiding it or using it as an example for our children.
How can we rein in that ego?
What will be the turning point to revive those old standards may be the expansion of organizations like the Paradise one.
We know churches, schools and parents are trying to make their own impact on reversing the course.
We applaud these conversations, classes and dialogue because this country’s future rests on our ability to get along.
Guild for Civil Dialogue will meet today (Sunday) from 4PM - 6PM at Norton Buffalo Hall. Doors open at 3:30PM.
Please join us! And if you do, bring a little light fare to share beforehand and at the break.
And remember -- we want a rich conversation. Try to bring someone with you who may disagree with your perspective on the issues!
3:30 Meet and Greet
4:00 Welcome | Review | Agree on agenda
4:05 Reading - “Plastic Viking Helmet” from Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger (2016).
4:10 Rules of the Road
4:40 Two-minute video: "Is Big Data Destroying the U.S. Political System?" NBC's Meet The Press
4:45 Topic - What constitutes reliable information?
5:20 Return to topic
5:50 Review and choose next topic
How does this sound?
Our Sunday, 2/19/17 4-6PM exploratory conversation about whether and how to establish a Guild for Civil Politics produced a consensus of interest.
Doors were opened at 3:30PM, and 15 people gathered at Norton Buffalo Hall. Some brought wine and a little food -- a nice addition. We dove in at 4PM.
We each shared how we felt about our politics-dominated cultural climate in light of the recent polarizing elections. Most were alarmed, saddened or depressed by the extremely negative interactions they've had with family, friends and neighbors. A few saw the upside -- there's a lot of interest in changing the status quo in politics.
I showed Chuck Todd's Data Download segment from Sunday morning's Meet the Press on NBC, which provided a good snapshot of the mood of the country. Our group was pretty well represented in the report.
The concern is, how do we function as a community when we are so polarized?
We took 20 minutes to view a TEDNYC interview with Jonathan Haidt, an NYU Stern professor and author of the 2011 New York Times Bestseller, The Righteous MInd: Why Good People Disagree On Politics And Religion.
Following the video we took time to share a little more deeply about ourselves and what we may be looking for in a group dedicated to substantive dialogue with people who don't share our point of view.
After a short break we resumed the conversation, then watched a video from A2Ethics (Ann Arbor, MI) on their annual Big Ethical Question Slam, an annual event that brings community groups together at a local pub for an ethics competition. The value of the event is in seeing our friends and neighbors form ethical opinions in real time in order to defend them. It's insightful. We discussed the potential of doing something similar in the fall.
A concern was raised that "Civil Politics" may be a turn-off to potential participants. We settled instead on "Guild for Civil Dialogue" for now.
This blog and page are the result of our efforts so far.
We agreed to meet again on Sunday, March 19, 4-6PM to take up a task, a topic, and a challenge.
Our task is to adopt "rules for the road." We agreed not to reinvent the wheel, and everyone was encouraged to research what basic agreements others use for similar projects and bring them to the meeting. We intend a speedy adoption so that we can focus on our topic as soon as possible.
Colleen mentioned the Rules of the Road used by Daily Kos as a potential model.
Lisa has since found three sources she liked:
Challenge: We've started with plenty of progressives/liberals, and we need more conservatives for our dialogue to be rich. We each agreed to accept the challenge to bring a conservative to the next meeting.
See you next time!
(Reposted from 2/18/2017)
Guilders and Butte County neighbors,
You are invited to join us Sunday, February 19 from 4PM to 6PM at Norton Buffalo Hall for a conversation on whether and how we might establish a new Guild (within our Paradise Community Guilds) aimed at learning and teaching the skills necessary for civil discussion of the issues and politics of our day.
Come as early as 3:30PM and bring some light potluck if you'd like to eat -- I hear we'll have some split pea soup, bread and wine to share, though I'm not sure how far it will go.
Why are we doing this? Well, we've been listening to our community.
Most of us have talked about the illness of incivility afflicting the soul of American politics, and whether we can do anything about it.
In short, we’re getting more and more divided on the issues, and mutual respect is displaced by frustration and disdain, guaranteeing that we stay divided. It affects families, friends and neighbors. And it’s unsustainable.
As a non-partisan, non-denominational fellowship with a vision to “Be the community you want to live in,” Paradise Community Guilds may be ideally positioned to promote more sustainable values in civil conversation. And we'll look for the fun in it!
Come prepared to articulate your interest and your ideas for how such a project might succeed.
• 3:30PM Doors open, food/drink set up
• 4PM - Gather, brief introduction of the topic.
• 4:20PM - Video from TEDNYC: Jonathan Haidt: "Can a divided America heal?" This is an insightful exchange recorded in November 2016. I encourage you to check it out beforehand.
• 4:40PM - Discuss the video. Ideas?
• 5PM - Break
• 5:10PM - Video from A2Ethics.org's Big Ethical Question Slam. This group in Ann Arbor, Michigan has held an innovative annual event for the last 5 years that has energized their community.
• 5:25PM - Discussion. Would we like to work toward our own Slam? How else can we have fun?
• 5:50PM Make agreements, wrap-up.
How does that sound?
In the meantime, here are some online clicks I would encourage you to explore:
Video from A2Ethics.org's Big Ethical Question Slam - short.
YourMorals.org Much of our political conversation rests on our moral beliefs. This website is a collaboration among social psychologists who study morality and politics. Take a little time to explore your own morals at the website; not only will you learn a little more about yourself, you’ll contribute to solid research.
CivilPolitics.org This may be a good theoretical resource for ideas on how we wish to proceed.
There's plenty more resource out there -- and if anyone feels like reading a book in the meantime, I highly recommend Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind - Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion.
Let's "Be the community we want to live in!" See you at 4PM this Sunday!