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What We Know Post-Election: Dialogue & Deliberation is More Critical than Ever

The Presidential election and the week following has brought the deep divides in this nation to a head, and brought to light numerous issues in our country. The results show us that huge swaths of the country feel unheard and anxious about the future, and sadly, many responses to the election and events taking place in its wake have highlighted issues of pent up frustration, racism, bigotry, and more. flag-cracked

We don’t know for sure what the coming weeks, months, and years will bring, but we do know this: dialogue & deliberation is more critical than ever. Our community may need some time to process this and think about what to do next, but we know our involvement is essential to helping bridge our divides, addressing substantive disagreements, and finding ways for us to work and move forward together as a nation.

The Needs We See & Our Network’s Response

There are many different needs that our country and our communities have right now, but we see a few key needs that stand out as ones that are especially suited for D&D solutions: bridging long-standing divides, processing hopes and fears together, encouraging and maintaining civility in our conversations, and humanizing groups who have become “the other.”

We at NCDD have been discussing bridging our divides all year, and we have an ongoing campaign focused on that work, but the election highlights that need even more. The partisan divide is always there, of course, as well as our historical racial divides. But the election also highlighted the disconnect between rural and urban communities, between people who attended college and who didn’t, and between people from different class statuses. The D&D community needs to be responding to all of these divides – exploring their origins, understanding how they impact people, and imagining how we can dissolve them. Essential Partners just released a Guide for Reaching Across Red-Blue Divides that can be a helpful tool for these needed conversations, and there are more.

After the election, people also need to process and reflect. There is a critical need for dialogue right now where people can express how they’re feeling and explore their hopes and worries for the weeks and months to come. Processes like Conversation Cafe are easy access points for people looking to have a dialogue to reflect on the election as well as what they’d like to see happen now. It’s a tool that provides the structure people need to have thoughtful, respectful conversations in person, and Essential Partners’ work to engage people about what happens #AfterNov8 is a good social media complement.

There is also a need – possibly more than ever – for civility in our discussions that allows us to disagree without attacking each other. D&D practitioners have our work cut out for us in helping people approach both public and private post-election conversations with civility and respect. Several NCDD members are leading efforts to maintain and restore it, with the National Institute for Civil Discourse leading the charge in their Revive Civility campaign, yet much more is needed.

fatima-talkingFinally and maybe most importantly, the country needs help finding approaches to humanizing the people and groups that have become “the other” – unapproachable and unredeemable caricatures – to our own groups. Conservatives are feeling unfairly vilified and misunderstood. Many immigrants, Muslims, and women are feeling threatened, at risk, and unwelcome. NCDD is continuing to support this work and promote collaboration through our new Race, Police, & Reconciliation listserv, and Not In Our Town has many resources for opposing bullying and hate groups that we recommend checking out. But this strand of potentially transformational D&D work needs much more energy and investment devoted to it in coming months and years.

Share What You’re Doing

As we look ahead, we want to ask NCDD members and our broader network, what work are you doing in response to the election and the issues that have arisen? What resources can you share to help others at this time?

Please share any efforts you are making, ideas you have, resources or tools you know of that could be helpful in the comments section of this post or on the #BridgingOurDivides campaign post. We learn so much from being in communication with one another about what we’re up to. NCDD will continue to share your responses on the NCDD Blog and our social media using the hashtag #BridgingOurDivides to continue lifting up stories and resources to a broader audience, and we’ll be working to compile the best divide-bridging resources in our Resource Center.

Furthermore, tell us what you think we can be doing together as a community to address the post-election landscape. Let’s talk with one another about how we can work collaboratively to engage the public and bring peaceful interactions and greater understanding to everyone.

It’s clear there is a lot of work to do to help our country come together, and heal the divides this election season has unearthed or widened. Our community is well suited to do this work, and we call on all of us to be supporting one another in our efforts.

Continue the conversation with NCDD on social media: FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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Courtney Breese
Courtney Breese is the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD). She has a B.A. in Social Work and Counseling from Franklin Pierce University, where she was introduced to dialogue & deliberation.

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We always encourage a lively exchange of ideas, whether online or off. Questions? Please feel free to contact us directly.

  1. Tom Atlee says:

    I’ve written a blog post “Realizing healing and transformation in the U.S.” http://www.tomatleeblog.com/archives/175327674 exploring the fact that Trump supporters are not all bigots, that the established party system is being majorly shaken up, and that this transformational moment is a great time for transpartisan and all-citizen dialogue and deliberation to gather around shared needs, visions and solutions. The “two sides” are not nearly as coherent and separate as they seem and now is a great time to highlight that fact and get to work together. The fact that the Trump administration will have a hard if not impossible task to fulfill its promises to its constituents, to say nothing of the mass resistance to much of its probable program and its electrified fringe of intolerance, means that the uncertainty of our future is even greater and the intensities of the political and social energies will only increase. Division-transcending dialogue – especially when consciously connected to co-creative solution-oriented deliberation – is one of the few truly hopeful possibilities on our horizon. And NCDD is clearly positioned to play a major role in that if members consciously choose to participate and collaborate in that vision. Blessings on the Journey we’re all on together, whether we know it or not! – Tom

  2. Lorelei Kelly says:

    We need an NCDD driven 435 district–50 state — strategy go connect with Congress. It needs both data and engagement tracks. I guarantee you that the smart process skills, the iterative re framing, the inclusive premise are desperately needed in both Republican and Democratic offices right now. Congress is constitutionally a co equal branch of government with the White House. It has abandoned that status in many ways over the years, though the potential and the norms still exist for it to discharge its representative, deliberative and oversight duties. This community is so uniquely well equipped to create the kind of civil-society surge to tip the balance forward after this disruptive election. I talk to Hill staff all the time about the engagement challenge (both technical and in person) I hear the same thing from both parties and geography does not make a huge difference. The White House is only truly accountable every 4 years to citizens..Congress is every day.

  3. John Backman says:

    What I am doing post-election is eccentric, but I wonder how many others are sensing the need for it as well. In short, I am engaging in no dialogue at all–not yet, anyway.

    This election season has left me with a basket of overwhelming reactions: woundedness from the campaign’s scorched-earth nature, horror at what we may have elected, dread of the future. These are not reactions I can bring into interpersonal dialogue with any coherence, so I’m trying out a season of silence and introspection–of simply sitting with the wreckage, reflecting on what we as a nation have done, and quietly observing what Mr. Trump does going forward. As part of it, I’m limiting my news intake as much as possible to facts only: no punditry, no analysis, no post-mortem, no speculation.

    In all of this, my spiritual practice–particularly the aspects that borrow from Buddhism–plays a pivotal role. It emphasizes the importance of paying full attention to what is, and the fact that we cannot know the future with any certainty.

    Ultimately, I hope, this season of “shutting up and shutting down” will tell me what to do and how to act. It does facilitate a suspension of judgment and a deep listening that could comprise a useful inner orientation in dialogue.

    As always, for what it’s worth….

    • Scott Wagner says:

      A wise response, John, methinks. A tailored grieving process, I realized, as I read you here. I’m going to try to frame it that way more for the struggling people I’m working with. Thanks for sharing.

    • Every Trumps supporter I know–and I live a in a rural area– reacted with gut wrenching anger at the “basket of deplorables” comments.In a nation that abides by the principle of equality the fact that the leadership despises and condescends was not something that could recover.

      No one wants to be disrespected. And everyone considering this needs to remember that.

  4. Tom Atlee says:

    An article about Trump supporters that has many potential hooks for topics and questions that would support D&D to heal communities, build bridges and stimulate work together.

  5. The Coffee Party USA is in the process of establishing national programs and local community groups to promote civil discussion and encourage political engagement. Just saw that in an email from them. I’ll see if I can get some more detail from Debilyn and others.

  6. Roshan Bliss says:

    The team at Living Room Conversations, one of our NCDD member orgs, just put out a guide specifically designed for post-election conversations among people who see the outcome and the issues differently. It’s a great resource to check out for both processing the election and practicing civility. Check it out here:http://www.livingroomconversations.org/whats_next_after_the_election

  7. Dave Biggs says:

    I recently conducted an interview with Author James Hoggan on his latest book, “I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up.” His insight into the situation is remarkable. Read it here: http://metroquest.com/toxic-state-of-public-discourse/

  8. Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice has worked with a select group of clergy of diverse faiths to create a statement and a request to our local city council and county board to pass a resolution we have drafted. So far just today we have gathered 40 signatures from faith leaders and three faith organizations. We will collect signatures through Monday morning and then issue a press release. I am confident we will have over 100 signature by Monday. Following that, we are inviting clergy of all faiths to an initial organizing meeting to talk about next steps in building bridges to create a safe, welcoming, and inclusive community. The statement and proposed resolution is below:
    November 17, 2016

    On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, the American electorate chose a new president, one whose campaign, public statements, and victory have already brought a significant increase of hate crimes in our country, as well as an intensification of racist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, anti-Semitic, anti-science, and isolationist rhetoric in the public sphere. As clergy and faith leaders, we believe that, as a nation of immigrants of different faiths, we all share a common understanding that our differences only make us better. It is incumbent upon us as faith leaders and upon our elected representatives to protect our inclusive and diverse community where we may all practice our faith traditions in security and peace.

    We therefore thank the Madison Common Council for their recent resolution affirming the city’s commitment to treating all people with dignity and respect and the Dane County Board of Supervisors for their recent resolution in support of the Muslim community. We further call upon the Dane County Board of Supervisors to pass a follow-up resolution to take a public stand in affirmation of the values we all cherish, and in opposition to the forces of bigotry and ignorance that would take us backward to a dark and dangerous time. We ask our county officials to issue an official proclamation in support of the values of inclusion, diversity, and mutual responsibility. We further pledge that our faith communities will continue to stand together in solidarity and mutual support to advance these values. We offer the following draft statement as a proposal for a county proclamations:

    On behalf of the County of Dane, Wisconsin, we hereby issue the following proclamation affirming our ongoing commitment to the values we all hold dear, and we pledge to all who live within our boundaries that your county government will stand by you.

    We affirm our deep and abiding commitment to the democratic ideals of inclusion, celebration of diversity, and mutual responsibility toward one another. We pledge to stand against intolerance, hatred, and discrimination. We declare Dane County to be a safe space for all, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or immigration status. We welcome the refugee, the outcast, the stranger among us.

    We look to all our residents, regardless of how they voted, to join together in the spirit of community to stand against hate, racism, and misogyny, and to stand together in mutual respect, support, and love. We face great challenges as a community, but we will face them together, as together we move Forward!

  9. Spectrum, formerly Time Warner Cable, will webcast A Day of Dialogue on Bringing US Together, involving a diverse panel of voters from Los Angeles having dialogue with a diverse panel of Pennsylvania residents who live about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia in mid-December, more details to follow…

  10. Corrected post: Spectrum, formerly Time Warner Cable, will webcast A Day of Dialogue on Bringing US Together involving a diverse panel of voters from Los Angeles having dialogue with a diverse panel of Pennsylvania residents who live about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia in mid-December, more details to follow…

  11. Days of Dialogue on Bringing US Together will be a live and live-streamed event sponsored by Days of Dialogue and Spectrum Cable, and supported by Democrats, Republicans, and every person who wants to proactively begin to mend divisions and move forward into a new era.

    On Saturday December 17, 2016 from 1P – 3P EST/10A – 12P PST, two dialogue groups will be convened in person, one in Los Angeles and one in Philadelphia. Each group will consist of six people, three Republicans and three Democrats, plus one facilitator. After going over the ground rules the jumping off point for the dialogue will be this short list of questions:

    1. What is your name and primary work or personal identity outside of your political affiliation? What do you hope to gain in this dialogue session?
    2. Now that the election is over, what are your hopes and dreams for Americans coming together? And, what concerns do you have, if any, about the outcomes of the recent election?
    3. What would be most helpful for us to do, in bringing us together – individually and/or collectively? What, if anything, are you committed to do?

    In addition to the live simultaneous dialogue sessions on both coasts, we’ll be hosting coverage on Facebook live. And after the event, the video will be available for review.

    In the weeks leading up to the dialogue, information about Days of Dialogue on Bringing US Together will be posted on http://www.daysofdialogue.org , Facebook and Twitter.
    A digital dialogue guide will be made available, so that everyone has access to the simple ‘rules of engagement’ and the questions to be explored.

    The 12/17 session of Days of Dialogue on Bringing US Together is intended to be the “pilot” for a series of sessions. Our initial focus will be on the divided state of our nation, so painfully brought to the fore prior to and after the election. We are now faced with enormous challenges- both practical and emotional- in the transfer of power from Obama to Trump, from Democrats to Republicans. Subsequent sessions will expand the in-person dialogue groups’ participants beyond the two major parties, to independents, clergy, elected officials, and more.

    Please watch the Spectrum webcast and comment in real time on Facebook LIVE, on Saturday 12/17/16, at 10AM EST, 1PM PST.

  12. Scott Wagner says:

    I’ve just published “The Liberal’s Guide to Conservatives,” a six-year effort designed solely to explain simply and clearly the sciences behind our ideological conflict patterns, and techniques for avoid and minimize them. I feel a great sadness, frustration and urgency now, as I watch people suffer much more than they should through ignorance, because they don’t understand the basics – who ARE these people? Why do they do what they do? How do I respond to anger or ignorance? How do I deal with my own feelings? The first half is the science, the second half is putting the science to use in conversation and interaction.

    Education can be both comforting and a way to find our direction. I’m uncomfortable plugging my own work, but this became a life work for me a long time ago, and I don’t feel right being silent with my crew on this point: it is a huge mistake to treat this problem as if science has little or nothing useful to say about this situation. At our recent conference, I was saddened to observe many practitioners who were dead in the water on this front simply because they’re unaware of the principles involved. I’ve read two useful treatments recently put out that are helpful but also flawed in this way, and could’ve been easily adjusted for much greater efficacy. Dialogue and the associated behavioral/emotional underpinnings are not the lone requisite diadem for addressing ideological conflict- not by a long shot. I urge you to learn the basics of the sciences involved in ideology, however you see fit. The book is available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble, with an audio version out at Thanksgiving time; if you can’t afford it, contact me via reach the right web’s site and I can get it to you. Also, I’m on the road constantly, and can do lessons for groups almost anywhere with enough notice…my apologies for the lack of forbearance.

  13. Jon Denn says:

    We had a successful beta test without a website earlier in the year. The new GREATERjury.us is the opposite of politics. A large ideologically balanced jury will select their own topic to put on trial through an instigating question, they will gather the evidence, use lateral thinking tools to cross examine, and after diverging for as long as possible begin co-creating a ballot of solutions to vote on. Hopefully there will be a verdict that is both popular and epistemic that a vast supermajority of the jury can support. The verdict will then be published, the theory being it will be reflective of what the readers could likewise support. In other words, starting from where we have common ground—not where we disagree. I’m in need of 60+ ideologically balanced jurors for the next beta test of the concept and the new website. The time commitment is an hour or two a week for three months, time shifted from your computer or smart device. Anyone here find this a worthy way to help the country?

    • Tom Atlee says:

      There’s an interesting version of voting coming out of Germany that I’d never heard of – a weird variation of preference voting. Each person rates each of the presented options on a scale of 1-10 about how much they DISLIKE or DISAGREE with it. The option with the lowest score wins. I thought of a variation of that, in which instead of just ending off with the lowest score option, the group takes the option(s) with the lowest score(s) and collectively lists the concerns that anyone has about that (or each) option and then collectively seek to address those concerns, thus making the option(s) even better. (This focus on “concerns” is inspired by consensus process and by Dynamic Facilitation.) If they did this with several options, the process might be followed by another round of preference voting. This would theoretically generate very desirable recommendations. Thoughts?

      • Jon Denn says:

        Hi Tom,

        This is interesting on many levels.

        1. A recent study showed that process beats analytics by 6x. This “weird” thing is certainly process.

        2. At the recent Farnam Street Re:Think Innovation conference they talked about inversion as a way to creativity. This is all that.

        3. Using lateral thinking theory like, deBono’s Six Thinking Hats, this process forces team thinking.

        4. At some point dialogue and deliberation has to become solutions. The nonprofit world is hobbled by tax law. Policy is the natural endpoint. And too important to forego to avoid tax liabilities.

        5. In my process, once the first “ballot” is created, there is an opportunity to have another iteration of solutions. We have a three part ballot: intent, singular, and compound. Oft times the mistakes are made in the choice creation. Using this process the consensus can be built from the resources bottom up, instead of strategy top down.

        6. The paradox is that people spend countless hours on the color commentary of the memes we are fed with confirmation bias, when it might only take an hour or two a week for a few months, like the People’s Verdict, to find out what is both popular and epistemic—in other words—what we all can agree upon. And start there, instead.

        7. Helene Landemore makes the case in her book Reason Democracy that citizens that are “correct” 51% of the time are on the upward spiral, and that “representational” government may only be “correct” 49% of the time, and are on the downward spiral. It’s obvious which is preferable.

        8. James Madison’s original first amendment to the US constitution was to limit the size of congressional districts to 30,000 people. In today’s day and age, technology actually allows us to have that kind of local representation in our democratic republic. It would also keep the representatives close to the people.

        9. I agree that when a conversation can be had that, left, right, freedom, and order, can rather easily come to a consensus or near consensus based on the facts of the particular issue at a particular point in time. There is a willful suspension of disbelief that only representational government can be trusted to figure it all out (or not).

        Let’s continue the conversation. I’m about to launch the next beta at GREATERjury.us. Wanna put some policy on trial? Explain why we need to get rid of some bad law, or advocate for the passage of a new good one?

        If a large ideologically balanced jury can reach a vast supermajority solution, it is highly likely it would be selective of the greater population.

        Doesn’t the country deserve a trusted source of public policy work? This was a point made early on in Robert Goodin’s book Reflective Democracy. The people need not be policy wonks but they do need trusted sources that are. Can anyone here name a transpartisan source for trusted public policy work?

  14. Mike Huggins says:

    Clear Vision Eau Claire has convened a county wide Poverty Summit to address local issues related to poverty and income insecurity in Eau Claire County (pop 100,000). We are currently about half way through a 7 seven session stakeholder planning process that began in October and will conclude in March 2017. We have had about 230 community participants in the first 3 sessions. Participants have discussed values, identified challenges, and framed local issues throughout the county regarding poverty. Based on the issues identified, participants have organized into 9 action teams. Over the course of the next 4 months, participants will refine a project charter statement and detailed action plans and build individual and team skills in problem solving, one to one interviews, powermapping, and public evaluation. Teams are being supported by University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) students who are serving as coaches to facilitate and support the problem solving processes of the action teams. In March 2017 we will celebrate the work of the teams and then launch an initial 18 month implementation phase. Clear Vision is providing training and coordination support for the stakeholder sessions and for the implementation process. Funding for the Poverty Summit is being provided through the 2015 Ash Innovation Award and contributions from local governments, the City-County Health Department, UWEC Foundation, and local businesses.

  15. Robin Teater says:

    Healthy Democracy’s Project:
    The recent national presidential election and a particularly rancorous debate over a high-stakes state ballot measure, have intensified already deep fissures among the voting public in Oregon. These fault lines include divisions between rural and urban communities first and foremost, but also include corollary factions such as conservative and progressive voters, communities of color and white residents, business leaders and public employees, and immigrants and natural born citizens.

    Healthy Democracy University (working title only) has been developed as a response. HDU will offer transformative learning opportunities – in the greatest tradition of an American university – focused on how to maintain the essential elements of a diverse and pluralistic democracy in Oregon. The starting point will be on the smallest unit of democracy, the individual citizen, with emphasis on formal and informal community thought leaders. These leaders will gain knowledge of both the technical and adaptive aspects of maintaining a healthy democracy, with a special focus on creating an environment where trust can be established among a diverse and traditionally oppositional microcosm of Oregon citizenry, in the post 2016 election environment. HDU will provide opportunities for participants to build a reserve of social capital that will be an essential resource for reducing tensions and building resilience across political, geographic, racial/ethnic and other differences, and providing a basis for sustaining these relationships when contentious national or statewide political issues arise in the future.

    The typical HDU participant will be an active community member and/or a formal or informal thought leader from a prescribed geographic area, and the group will be representative of the diversity of Oregon’s population, including a range of political perspectives.

    Program will include a three-day intensive residential program with key session components to include examining formation of world view and values, group identity and community, and essential elements of a healthy democracy.

    This program is scheduled to commence shortly after the presidential inauguration in late January 2017, and as funding is secured.

  16. Jordan Luftig says:

    Last Saturday (11/12) my colleague and I ran a convening that brought together different movement clusters – for social justice, a commons economy, and spiritual awakening – with the explicit purpose of looking within and across our movements to bridge divides and build relationships, power, and solidarity (http://www.moment-for-movements.com/).

    I see this work as important in its own right, as well as conducive to even more inclusive efforts that seek to bridge divides across the entire political spectrum – a topic that was raised and of interest to this group. The theme of and capacity to be “non-othering” was present in a big way. I was encouraged by the quality of our discourse and embodiment, and by the broader possibility in our nation of facilitating a transformative vision that has the moral, intellectual, and spiritual strength to simultaneously take a stand for a just, peaceful, and sustainable/regenerative world; oppose those that stand in the way of such a vision; and create the conditions for mutual understanding and a more expansive and enduring unity-in-diversity.

  17. NACAD (New Andaluz Centre for Authentic Dialogue) is learning experientially with small groups on Zoom and one of their first projects will be bringing together a few people to process (through their Authentic Dialogue protocols) the US election, first with like-hearted Democrats, then inviing some who voted Republican to join. Their website is http://www.NACADialog.com

  18. “Thoughtful Citizenship: A non-partisan guide for having thoughtful conversations, even with those who disagree, so that everyone comes out alive and maybe even learns something along the way” is a free e-book put together by the Inquiry Institute including a variety of essays sharing wisdom and guidance for how to listen and dialogue with people of differing perspectives. The book can be found at http://www.thoughtfulcitizens.us

  19. Tom Flanagan of the Institute for 21st Century Agoras shared the following with me:

    Our trajectory hasn’t shifted, though we do feel the shifting earth beneath our feet. We continue to build community through design dialogue that links project managers to their stakeholders. We are hoping to see more service in support of bridging divides, processing emotions together, encouraging civility, and humanizing “others.” These outcomes flow from communities that find ways to work together on projects of shared concern, so our focus is on the project first, with the softer (and deeper) objectives as a living fabric of working communities. Because we sense and see people poised to take actions, getting specific projects underway behind existing project managers provides both a catharsis from the stress of “doing nothing” and a catalyst from the interactions of “doing something together.”

  20. From Jim Rough at the Center for Wise Democracy:

    At the Center for Wise Democracy we believe that it’s possible to heal the partisan divide and reform our democracy using the Wisdom Council Process. This is a strategy that uses Dynamic Facilitation to evoke the spirit of choice-creating in large systems, even very large systems like for the nation, for the local city, or even for all the world’s people. The Wisdom Council Process can be used by a government or just a group with enough resources to facilitate “all the people” to come together as “We the People” … so that “We” face the really difficult issues, figure out what we want to do about them and cooperate in the public interest.

    Fortunately the Wisdom Council Process has been around now since 1993 so we’ve had a chance to experiment with it. Not only does it work, but it’s been picked up by different governments in Europe, particularly in German speaking lands. (They translate the term “Wisdom Council” to be “Buergerrat,” which is “Citizen Council” or “Civic Council.”) Recently in a Skype call I was visiting with Josef Hoermindinger, staff to the Parliament of the Austrian State of Salzburg where they use both Dynamic Facilitation and the Wisdom Council. I edited the video from our conversation into two short videos 1) Healing Polarization in Society: https://youtu.be/Vo_8qGzpdVQ (4.5 min) and 2) How we can Reform Democracy. https://youtu.be/4FJnH2hcdRA (7.5 min).

    • Fel says:

      I can’t believe that I had not discovered Jim Rough’s work before tonight – thanks to this post, Courtney. This is truly groundbreaking work and ideas. I have been reading about and listening to interviews with Jim Rough all evening, and I just bought a book about Dynamic Facilitation – http://tinyurl.com/jp2tvxt . Thank you!

  21. The National Association of Community and Restorative Justice has resources on their homepage: http://www.nacrj.org including a link to a model circle process for post-election dialogue: http://nacrj.org/images/General/External_Content/Election_Processing_Community_Circle_for_2016c.pdf
    Many thanks to Sara Balgoyen, Executive Director of Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice Project for sharing this with me!

  22. Tom Atlee says:

    “Bridging the divides” is vital work, especially when it is experienced OR WITNESSED by thousands or millions of people, because it counters the widespread assumption that people at opposite poles of belief or demographics can’t really hear each other or talk to each other civilly.

    At the same time, there is something fundamentally illusory about the dichotomies of left and right, of white and black, of rich and poor, etc. The closer we examine them and the people we place in those categories (including ourselves), the less they look like dichotomies and the more they look like spectrums or landscapes of many-dimensioned diversity, with people having much more complex beliefs and responses than we normally think they/we have. Of course, our polarizing political culture (it’s hard to get 50+% of the vote if there are more than 2 options, so people try to fit into one “side” or the other in order to be politically effective) combined with ingrained tribal and “confirmation bias” tendencies (helped along by media and partisan manipulation) reinforce the differences to make them SEEM and FEEL real and descriptive.

    So in a frustrating way the “bridging the divides” framing encourages us to reify those illusory differences by engaging self-identified polar opposites to talk with each other. Again, this seems necessary, if only to moderate the divisive nature of the “divide”.

    Along those lines, I’ve wondered what a liberal/left “listening project” would look like, which was framed less as a conversation BETWEEN sides and more as a one-sided effort to understand “Trump supporters”, with a minor subtext of uncovering possible (however unlikely) common ground. Questions like these come to mind:

    “What do you think I might agree with that we could work together on?”
    “What do you think is the most important thing that President Trump cold accomplish in his first term, and why?”
    “What do you hope President Trump doesn’t do?”
    “What would the ideal politician be like?”
    “What difficulties in your life could be made better by the government either doing something or not doing something?”
    “What aspects of our public life together really matter most to you?”

    One thing I’ve heard from conservatives re dialogue is their suspicion (not always unwarranted) that liberals want to do dialogue in an effort to get the conservatives to agree with the liberals. I would hope that a true listening project would set aside that concern.

    On the other hand, I am fascinated by the way diverse people who are invited into community problem-solving exercises as peer citizens tend to rise to the occasion out of their polarized frames into more of a teamwork frame. I see that as a further development of the “bridge the divides” aspiration that sets aside the concept of being divided and moves on to bringing our diverse full selves into the co-creation of better approaches to our shared lives.

  23. Tom Atlee says:

    One more thought:

    Many of us depend on pre-established ground rules – such as “Be respectful” – to manage dialogue and deliberation, especially when we’re dealing with known conflict. However, many people feel restricted or even oppressed by such rules while other participants may settle into a passive form of safety, feeling freed from potential challenges or upsets and encouraged to keep their own passions under control.

    So a generic issue in D&D – as well as in many other aspects of social life – is that rules can suppress life energy even as they prevent unwanted outcomes. To the extent we see this as an undesirable trade-off, it behooves us to explore how we might prevent such unwanted outcomes by tapping into – rather than establishing limits on – the life energy present in the people and situations we seek to facilitate or improve.

    For example, a step in the right direction may be to have people in a group or meeting generate their own rules – or, better yet, generate authentically shared understandings – through shared inquiry into what would serve their collective purposes, such as what would make the difference between this being a successful meeting or a disastrous one. This approach utilizes the existing concerns, experience, and beliefs of the group to shape and energize their own self-governance, as well as eliciting natural buy-in for the facilitator’s help in adhering to the guidelines they create.

    A more advanced step might be to choose a set of appropriately diverse stakeholders or participants who happen to have (a) real curiosity about people different from themselves, (b) real interest in solving shared challenges or realizing shared aspirations, and (c) real interest in addressing each other’s concerns about any proposed courses of action. Furthermore, such a group can expand its impact by – and take pride in – also soliciting and addressing the concerns of their peers who may not have (a)-(c) characteristics and were thus not chosen as direct participants in the D&D activity. Such factors can be designed into the activity to help the chosen participants’ diverse individual life energies add up to shared co-creativity.

    A more inclusive step – in the sense of being able to welcome any participant just as they are – is to use processes* and facilitators whose deep reflective listening (a) helps every participant feel fully heard and thus more willing to hear, empathize with, and work with each other; (b) models ideal listening so that all participants start listening better to each other; and (c) reframes conflict as a reason to clarify the legitimate concerns, unmet needs, or unsatisfied interests that can then be addressed by the participants collectively. While this can require especially skilled facilitation, it helps us welcome anyone and the full gifts they bring, even when those gifts are wrapped in disturbing energy.

    Incorporating such approaches into our D&D efforts reduces the need for externally-imposed rules or guidelines, thus freeing up and utilizing more of the autonomous life energy participants bring to the activities we are convening, hosting, or facilitating. And that energy is a precious resource for greater shared understanding, relationship, and possibility.

    * Dynamic Facilitation, Nonviolent Communication and Principled Negotiation are among the exemplars of this kind of process.

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