(Find Conversational Shift online HERE.) Liberals and conservatives would each like to control the three branches of the federal government, and if they could, state and local governments. However, such political domination would be unhealthy for the political process and our nation as a whole.
We know that it was a bad idea when kings ruled with absolute authority; it’s a bad idea for one company to monopolize an industry. So, why then, do so many people think that it is a good idea for their political persuasion to control the decision making process of this country? (more…)
“[Olympia Snowe] has graced Congress since 1978 with the kind of balance and fortitude necessary to make compromise happen and we’re going to miss her. The challenge is going to be that I’m not sure it’s an inside job anymore, it’s got to be done by the American people.” — Peter D. Kiernan, author of Becoming China’s Bitch
Six years ago a group of liberal and conservative Tallahassee leaders – who somehow enjoyed enduring across-the-aisle friendships despite enduring political disagreement – started an audacious civic experiment. They were frustrated by the divisiveness of the political dialogue nationally and its increasingly negative impact on local decision-making. And they were nervy enough to think they could fix it.
“The experiment” is now called The Village Square, named after Albert Einstein’s reflection on America’s first nuclear energy debate: “To the village square, we must carry the facts… from there must come America’s voice.”
In the good company of Mr. Einstein, we were doing some Grade A wishful thinking when we decided to elevate facts as central to our mission. Facts, after all (and especially in the internet age), are ripe for motivated cherry picking and human beings are nothing if not motivated cherry pickers.
“The mind is divided like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant… The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.”
An encyclopedic volume of facts can drive any particular complex issue – hard for mere mortals (with children, bosses and a mortgage) to absorb. So instead, people make decisions intuitively (and based on others around them), then settle on a set of “facts” that support the decision they’ve already made. “The Righteous Mind” offers overwhelming scientific support for the driving force of “post-hoc” rationalization in our mental processes.
I now suspect our original conservative and liberal friends were unconsciously deluding ourselves that The Village Square would convince our wayward friends on the opposite side of the aisle of the ultimate correctness of our own political views. That didn’t happen.
Instead, in the process of rolling up our sleeves together in common work, we had accidentally put ourselves in the company of a very different group of elephants than our usual herd. That is what has changed everything – including (ironically) allowing us to be naturally affected by a broader range of facts.
Now when our “elephants” lean in the direction our minds choose instinctively – we choose a different direction than we might have without these new and unique relationships. Using Jon Haidt’s construct, in the process of aiming our efforts at what doesn’t work – talking to the rider – The Village Square stumbled on what does work: We changed the path of the elephant.
“…If you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason… wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other.”
Do we still talk to riders? Sure we do. Riders matter, as servants of the elephant. Riders need good ideas to talk to other people, and try to influence them. But the ingredient essential to our success has always been that we speak to elephants.
More soon on how you get 4 ton pachyderms into a room…
Were there such a thing as Village Square homework (and there should be), this would be it. Conservatives, be sure to hang in for the whole the discussion; Dr. Haidt’s work is extremely validating of a conservative world view (and in a way that will help liberals understand you better, how much better does it get than that…) We believe Dr. Haidt is doing some of the most important work of our time. So get a bowl of popcorn and set aside 45 minutes. You won’t be sorry.
Published in the Tallahassee Democrat, February 15, 2012 – There’s nothing more quintessentially American than a town hall meeting. It’s how the business of American community has gotten done from just about the moment the first disaffected European foot hit ground in the New World.
Even if you’ve never attended one, the town meeting is buried so deep in our country’s psyche that you can probably immediately call up its intimate details – rows of folding chairs, town council up front with only a school lunch table to define their status, a charmless but functional meeting room. Someone probably saw to it that there would be coffee and cookies. Overachievers might organize a potluck. (more…)
This unique New York Times blog by Maira Kalman makes me tear up a bit every time I re-read it. America is such a Big Idea. And our country’s greatness really is fundamentally located in our communities, with our humble town hall or wherever it is we manage to make civic connections to our neighbors.
I looked and looked for a video of these touching moments to share with you if you didn’t catch Tuesday night’s State of the Union, but I couldn’t find one. So I’m sharing this video as an introduction. You can see Congressman Flake at Giffords’ left in the first half of the video below.
Last year’s State of the Union found Arizona Republican Representative Jeff Flake sitting next to Representative Gabby Gifford’s empty seat as she struggled for her life in the aftermath of the shooting. So this year he reports being delighted to be able to – as NoLabels.org advocated for – sit in a bipartisan fashion next to his colleague. Throughout the speech, Rep. Giffords stood up with her Democratic party at the appropriate Democratic applause lines.
And each time she did, it was Representative Flake who both helped her to her feet and helped her sit back down again. He was, many times that night, the only Republican in the chamber standing.
“She knew when she wanted to stand up,” Flake told Yahoo News. “And I stood when she stood.”
“Incivility destroys a community’s capacity to generate wealth.
In a networked, knowledge-driven economy, collaboration drives wealth creation. And collaboration can only thrive in a stable environment of trust. The corrosion of our civil society –– the alarming growth of incivility and pervasive lying –– undercuts our economy’s productivity and our capacity to innovate.
Incivility — fraudulent concealment (“hiding the ball”), lying, manipulation, and associated behaviors — can work well to redistribute wealth. We see almost endless examples from MF Global to the subprime mess. Yet, these behaviors do not generate wealth. Indeed, they erode capitalism’s capacity to generate wealth. That’s why corruption slows economic growth and why trust is associated with higher rates of economic growth.”
Thanks to Tony for the heads up on this great article.
Getting ready for our next big Dinner at the Square program, we’re betting many of you are feeling a new and deeper level of regret that you missed the last one? If so, this is your lucky day. We are deeply appreciative to WFSU and FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights for videotaping our September 13th forum. Barry Richard’s keynote presentation “Security, Pseudo-patriotism and the Erosion of American Liberties” is an absolute must-see! Grab some munchies, kick your feet up and find the two part video online HERE. Stay tuned in coming days for video from other recent FSU CAHR programming. Support the good work done by WFSU in this community by making a donation online HERE.
“I think – as President Kennedy pointed out – sometimes when you try to ride the tiger, you wind up inside of it. And you’ve seen this over the last couple of years: Any insult to Rush Limbaugh is greeted with an immediate apology from whatever offending Republican, no matter their rank or stature. When you have someone who yells “you lie” in the middle of the State of the Union, donations flood into the website. So there has been a reward system based on the intemperance of the rhetoric, not on the substance of the ideas, the strength of conservatism as the solution to the problems. So this carnival atmosphere, once started, it isn’t that easy to shut off. And we may be about to pay a high price for it.” — Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist on Morning Joe (Photo credit)
Did you miss us last week on WFSU’s weekly radio show Perspectives? The audio is in! You can find it online HERE. I loved host Tom Flanigan’s intro so much I somehow talked him into giving me his notes. So here’s Tom: “Politics and religion have always been hot topics and often not discussed in polite company. But today, you often can’t even talk politics in impolite company. The volume level of the discussion often exceeds that of an atomic blast. Is there any hope for civility in public discourse? Can government officials lower the talk temperature by being more open and honest with the public? Can’t we all just get along? That what we’ll be talking about on this morning’s Perspectives and we’ll be eagerly awaiting your calls and emails, too.” (Again, listen to the program online HERE.)