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The Orangeband Initiative

The OrangeBand Initiative promotes conversation about what matters, and YOU decide what matters. Begun at James Madison University in Virginia by NCDD member Kai Degner, over 8,500 people [as of 2009] have OrangeBands and chapters are starting around the USA and beyond. Your OrangeBand is an issue, idea, concern, or topic you think is important to bring into conversation. OrangeBands (orange strips of fabric you attach to your bag) serve as invitations to respectful conversation about issues that we feel are important to talk about. The idea is simply to get an OrangeBand, put it someplace visible, and use it to spark a conversation – hopefully with someone who thinks differently.

The OrangeBand Initiative is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to empowering people to have and promote respectful conversation about what matters. You decide what matters.

Besides distributing thousands of OrangeBands, the Initiative has helped organize over 100 discussion-oriented events about a range of important issues.

The OrangeBand Initiative is nonpartisan – but YOU don’t have to be!

An OrangeBand conversation is meant to be constructive. The goal of the conversations is to generate a better understanding of why a person thinks what s/he thinks. Conversations between people who disagree are an opportunity to learn from someone else’s view! The organization is not interested in advocating for any particular stance, but it does encourage others (you) to discuss what they think – respectfully.

For OrangeBand to be successful in providing a neutral space for dialogue, the organization must remain neutral itself. We vigorously work to protect this political impartiality by inviting people of diverse perspectives to participate on staff and in our forums. Through nonprofit incorporation and 501(c)(3) status, we seek to protect the nonpartisan approach crucial to engaging a broad cross-section of the community.

What’s OrangeBand — or what’s an OrangeBand?

An OrangeBand is a symbol of someone’s commitment to listen to what’s important to other people. People who take an OrangeBand and display it someplace visible (like on a bag) are demonstrating their commitment to practice listening at work and in life.

When asked about the OrangeBand, they say something like, “It means I’m interested in listening to what’s important to the people around me. What’s important to you?”

What’s the point?
Relationships and understanding are created by meaningful conversation – and listening is the fundamental component for a quality conversation. The vision of The OrangeBand Initiative is to have a world where quality listening – and the care and understanding it makes possible – is the norm.

History

The OrangeBand Initiative began in 2003, and has since evolved as a symbol and as an organization. As of early 2009, the OrangeBand itself is a symbol of an interest in and commitment to practice listening at work and in life. The program is housed within the Community Mediation Center, in Harrisonburg, VA.

Spring 2003
A small group of James Madison University students came up with an idea to get their campus talking and listening about the Iraq War. The OrangeBand organizers coordinated a week of nonpartisan dialogues and one debate about the war, and advertised the week’s events – and the opportunity to discuss the topic – by inviting students and faculty to take an orange strip of fabric to use as a conversation starter about how they felt about the war.

In one week, 2,000 people took OrangeBands, 400 people attended 8 forums, and countless conversations had begun – even between people who disagreed. It was clear the JMU community was yearning for a space to respectfully and civilly discuss an issue as important as going to war.

Fall 2003
Encouraged by the massive response, the organizers decided that the interest was not simply driven by the topic of war, but rather the quality of conversation OrangeBand was promoting: a respectful exchange even in disagreement. This, of course, was in the context of a norm of extreme partisanship and reactionary, polarized crossfire. That said, the organizers agreed that they would continue to promote civil discourse – but would leave the topic of conversation to each individual. The OrangeBand then became an invitation to a conversation about an issue important to the wearer.

With the symbolism of an invitation to a conversation, over 10,000 people took OrangeBands and university chapters formed in at least 10 states across America.

Early 2009
After two years “off”, an opportunity arose to recommit to The OrangeBand Initiative. A thorough review of its success and the intention of having OrangeBand make a widespread impact in communities across the country (and beyond?) led to an important breakthrough in the symbolism of the OrangeBand: moving from emphasizing the talking in a conversation towards emphasizing the listening.

See, in its former symbolism, the OrangeBand was to some degree a trigger for the wearer to begin speaking about what’s important to them, which did not necessarily assure either person was truly listening. Imagine being at the bus stop and asking about the strip of fabric on someone’s bag, and they proceed to rant about the evils of mountaintop removal by the coal industry – a worthy issue to discuss, perhaps, but without the expectation of such a response the conversation may be more of a monlogue with little listening being present. Now, to be clear, countless quality conversations were indeed begun while OrangeBands had this symbolism.

Listening is the cornerstone of meaningful conversation in any context. It provides the opportunity for clarity, for understanding, and for care and relationships. Listening can uncover opportunities for shared commitment in disagreements, and listening can create new ideas and options for moving forward. Most importantly, listening can help another be understood and acknowledged, in what they are saying, feeling, and committed to. Put plainly, listening holds the potential for peace and prosperity.

So, the intention of The OrangeBand Initiative has become more focused. What if there were 10,000 people with OrangeBands who, when asked about it at, say, a bus stop, said, “It means I’m interested in listening to what’s important to the people around me. What’s important to you?”, and thereby clearly communicated that they were ready to listen? Let’s find out.

Resource Link: www.orangeband.org

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