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My Purple Post: The Village Square

Why not hop on over to visit with our Purple State of Mind friends John & Craig to read this there. And while you’re there, check out the latest Purple Interview.

I had a wonderful meeting last week with a member of my board who parenthetically commented that he loved the name “The Village Square”. For him, it conjured up an experience from his travels to a small Italian village. At night, the people – from all walks of life, young and old – would find themselves congregating in the town square. They’d talk about their day, their life, their dreams. This struck me with particular force because in our meeting was the intern he had randomly assigned to help us who – through some lucky stroke of small world chance – happened to be a lovely young woman who was one of my daughter’s best friends as a child. It made the meeting and the image of his “Village Square” unusually hauntingly beautiful. I just couldn’t shake it as I went about the rest of my day that was distinctly lacking in another similar experience.

At the end of my day, I came home to my family in the suburbs. I was thinking about what it might be like if instead of gathering in the living room and pulling out our laptops, we ambled down to the local town square. There I would find my family and my neighbors families, completely unexpected conversations, a food vendor or two, a few kids kicking around soccer balls, pets following behind. The connections that naturally exist in the town square form a natural support for the civil society (including civic and political decisions) that must rest on it.

A town square at sunset becomes a melting pot, its humanity stirred into a swirl of colors and directions and ideas. In it is an implied compromise: I walk away just a bit from “me” to become “us.” Yet this is so vanilla compared to the bold individual colors we’ve become used to painting with in our lives. The uber-individualization of our times encourages us to boldly pick the direction of our own lives, down to an exact compass degree. Just to our left and our right in the spinning of our lives are other people existing just one degree off our path who we don’t necessarily feel compelled to make into an “us.”

With all of the wonderful individual muscles we flex in service of our own unique life goals, I think we know we have lost something profound, that we know in our very core that we need more people in our lives, even if they’re people infuriatingly unlike us.

My friend Lea just sent me a blog post that made this same point from a Christian perspective. But for my rhetorical purposes, I’ll borrow just a snip from author Donald Miller about the biology of our need for people:

What is most important to heart health, according to [extensive research performed by heart surgeon Dean] Ornish, is community. That’s right…other people. Patients who suffered from a heart attack were more likely to recover if they had a dog, and also if they were in a good marriage, and then also if they were part of a close-knit community. They could also take medicine, but the medicine helped about as much as the community, Ornish found.

As our human connection goes high tech and twitter, our loss may be incalculable.

I think conservatives understand this intuitively better than liberals do. And conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, have more “town squares” in their lives than a typical liberal. Maybe that’s part of what intuitively concerns conservative Americans – that the fabric is coming unraveled. And, as Jonathan Haidt astutely observes in his Ted.com lecture on the differences between liberals and conservatives, conservatives know that order is so much harder to build than it is to destroy.

It’s simply an unalterable fact that our new town square is partly online. We’ll strive to humanize it, we’ll probably even succeed now and again, like at Purple State of Mind. But unless we can find an occasional evening in our lives to venture out into the village square, we’ll be forever poorer for it – possibly in ways too profound to fully grasp.

(Photo credit: Paolo Margari)

Chivalry (and civility): Possibly not dead yet?

Kudos to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) for putting it to a heckler at a Meg Whitman campaign event:

“We’re here talking about the future of the state of California and the future of our country. It’s people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country. We’re here to bring this country together, not divide it.”

Morning Joe commentary: Keep calm and carry on

Village Square thumbs up to Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe for this dead-on commentary on civility. (Thumbs down to Morning Joe for not including it on the video clips, thereby requiring me to create a transcript…)

JOE: [NYC Mayor Michael] Bloomberg is going to be helping candidates who aren’t bound by rigid ideology and that’s the message we’ve been trying to emphasize here… what we try to do is encourage politicians and thought leaders and all Americans to follow the advice of an old British war poster and create a very simple message: Keep calm and carry on. That was the message that FDR delivered to a battered nation in the depths of the great depression when he declared to all Americans “All we have to fear is fear itself.” It was the message that Bobby Kennedy delivered to a shocked and embittered nation on the night that Martin Luther King was assassinated. And I really do believe that’s the message that Americans need to hear again today.

Because today our nation is confronting a new war and it’s a war of words. We’ve forgotten how to talk to each other. We’ve got political extremists who are dominating the airwaves and dominating the nation debate. And you know what the White House calls the professional left along with what we call the far right now profit from political hate speech that makes our political system weaker. And yet, isn’t it strange that our Washington politicians seem to obsess over those angry voices… instead of seeking out voices of people like you, rational Americans who show respect to their neighbors, who raise their families, who go to work and who play by the rules. It’s time for you, you quiet Americans to respond. Not with angry words or hateful commentaries or setting your hair on fire – calling a Republican president a fascist or a Democratic president a fascist but rather to respond with reasonable voices and a rational debate. Now we’re going to continue like we’ve done for 3 years to encourage viewers and guests to resist the pull of those people on the far right and professional left who seek division. Let’s keep focusing on the task at hand, ensuring that America’s best days lie ahead.

MIKA: What we’ll continue to do here is call out those who preach hate and we’ll continue to celebrate civility and promote open debate where all voices, voices on all sides are welcome. And as Joe and I tried to show you everyday, you can disagree without being disagreeable.

Restoring Sanity Rally Signage

One of the pre-made signs Jon Stewart is suggesting for his “Restoring Sanity” rally…

Happy Constitution Day

Quoting my friend Lea: “we the people”. not us and them. we are all the people who have to work together in order to form a more perfect union. happy constitution day.

To celebrate, I’m going to actually re-read it (and I might try to throw in the Bill of Rights).

Uncle Jay Explains: Incendiary

Play this video

Bob Schieffer on 9/11: Then and Now

Fire and Water in Florida

Fire came one sunny September morning to America nine years ago tomorrow. It was bright and blinding and so unexpected that even these many years later we can barely look directly at it.

Fire spreads.

When radical Islamists chose to set fire to America, the consequences – human nature being what it is – were probably to some extent predetermined: There would be more fire.

Former Catholic nun Karen Armstrong writes in The Battle for God that extremism of one ilk exists because extremism of the other does. Extreme action on one side provokes an equal and opposite extreme reaction on the other. And so it goes, with many flavors of homegrown extremism having taken center stage since the 9/11 attack. Tomorrow’s installment of extremism, straight from central casting, was to be a ceremonial Quran burning. (At this writing it’s been suspended but it is not yet clear if “suspended” really means canceled in what has inexplicably become a Muslim/Christian he said/he said. You can’t make this stuff up.)

Outside of burning California hillsides, fighting fire with fire doesn’t really work. Most people with a stake is seeing a fire put out use water instead.

In the days after 9/11, in one of the innumerable searching conversations happening in the American family, my brother (a military man well acquainted with “fire”) imagined how he wanted America’s reaction to play out: We’d capture Bin Laden alive, then bring him back to New York City, get him a good lawyer and put him on trial. Then, in the darkest and least civilized corners of the world, that America would ensure such a man a fair trial in our abiding commitment to the rule of law would shine a light so bright that the forces in the world that build would irrevocably trump the forces that destroy.

My brother was describing water.

That conversation – and more generally the tragedy of 9/11 – were no small part the genesis of what would eventually become our Tallahassee Florida go at dousing the fire with water by building The Village Square.

But fire is flammable and demands attention and 50 members of a congregation a couple hours south of us has been getting international news coverage by pouring gasoline on it (by using water, The Village Square is lucky if we get covered in local briefs). Fire is hot, fire sells newspapers.

When asked to speak about The Village Square, I’ve been known to lament that we’d be a national mass movement by now if our events involved statements of outrageous fury instead of thoughtful moderation. It’s simply the elemental difference between fire and water. This week Terry Jones and his Gainesville church have proven my theory as even the Vatican weighed in on their intemperance.

Other efforts at extinguishing fire with water get equally short shrift compared to the fire starters, such as this group of national religious leaders who got a big yawn from the media as they tried to advance moderation in the face of the planned event in Gainesville.

America is – at her best – the perfect solution to fire, both at home and elsewhere in the world. Our founders were students of human nature and prescribed an effective system to balance extremism. It’s tragic when we can’t rise to the call of our birthright because we’re stuck in an equal and opposite reaction to the horrible extremism of that day nine years ago. We may not quite know it, but we are in a unique position to shine that light my brother described all around the world in multitudes of ways that dampen the fires. Maybe welcoming a mosque near ground zero is just such a moment when a country with a really Big Idea shines a really big light?

My daughter is a junior at the University of Florida. She says there is a rumor going around campus that the football game being played tomorrow in Gainesville (91,000 people in “The Swamp”) is the target of a bomb threat. News yesterday was that the FBI says there are credible retaliatory threats. And so it goes: Extremism begets extremism.

General Petraeus knows fire and water and equal and opposite reactions. He said of the plan to burn Qurans: “We’re concerned that the images from the burning of a Quran would be used in the same way that extremists used images from Abu Ghraib that they would in a sense be indelible.”

Indelible is a good word for what people do with fire.

Please note that we are waiting for a statement of support for The Village Square from the Vatican.

Liz Joyner is the Executive Director and co-founder of The Village Square.

(Fire photo credit. Water photo credit: Raymond Larose)

President Obama speaks to President Bush to mark the end of combat operations in Iraq; hopefully the conversation went better than the polarized commentary since

Obama in his presidential address Tuesday night:

“This afternoon I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I said, there were patriots who supported this war and patriots who opposed it. All of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and servicewomen and our hopes for Iraq’s future.”

“The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead.”

And as night follows day… Commentary from the left since the address were angry Obama would give Bush anything given what they see as the catastrophic nature of the decision to invade Iraq and the falsehoods that led to it. And from the right they accused him of having no class because he didn’t outright credit Bush for the surge (on Limbaugh the guest host said it was a “small speech by a small man”).

In this environment, it’s hard to know how anyone can lead us.

Polarization vs. polarity: Maybe the distinction will help us turn the corner?

This excellent article is by management consultant Margaret Seidler writing in Charleston Regional Business Journal. She writes about the need to see conflict as the management of polarity two necessary opposites:

What I know from my professional work in managing complexity and conflict in organizations is that when people get polarized on big, on-going issues, eventually all involved will suffer. It might not be today or tomorrow, but I can predict with great certainty that it will happen.

[Look] at the stark consequences for a society whose citizens get polarized to the point of deadlock. Here we get winners and losers; lose sight of the big picture; stop listening to the other “side”; get defensive; limit possibilities for solutions because we are so focused on being “right”; bring about anger, resentment – even hatred. Just bear witness to the threats that Congress has received in the wake of the passage of health care reform legislation.

Seidler goes on to confirm a Village Square-ism: It’s about valuing the contributions opposing ideas have to solving problems and keeping those opposing forces alive and bumping up against each other. Or as founder James Madison put it “the constant clashing of opinion.”

With these consequences in mind, we explored the phenomenon of polarity (interdependent pairs that need each other over time). To demonstrate that we all know and experience polarity, I used the example of one pair we manage every day: inhale and exhale. It is easy to recognize the each part of this polarity pair gives us something vital and needed. And although each is very different, we must get the best of both in order to live, not die. This polarity is readily understandable because the need to gain the best from each becomes apparent in a matter of seconds.

You can find more from Margaret Seidler at www.mypowersurge.com

(Photo credit: One Tree Hill Studios)

Rhetoric that’s good for ratings, bad for the trajectory of our civic dialogue

Today on the radio Glenn Beck said that Americans are about to lose their religious freedom. He was actively rallying the forces to prevent it. Perhaps someone who agrees with his sentiment could help those of us who say “huh?”

There is a valid argument that legal secularism has overreached in working toward a “naked public square” (a term used by Christian writer Os Guinness, theologian John Neuhaus although I’m not clear of its genesis), removing faith from our public spaces, rather than aiming for a public square where all faiths – and no faith at all – are warmly welcomed into a rich conversation. The second option allows for the “constant clashing of opinion” that our Founders envisioned as a check on excess in the majority.

But the suggestion that there are vast and sustained efforts to subvert Christians’ religious freedom doesn’t seem to hold up. A drive through town on a Sunday morning paints a vivid picture of religious diversity and freedom, alive and well in America.

Overreaction on one “side” of an argument inevitably leads to an equal and opposite overreaction. Greater than the risk that Christians, though they are the vast majority of us, will lose their religious liberty is the risk that this sort of white hot rhetoric overshoots the mark enough that it will actually create what it fears. If you’re of a minority religious view, a wall of angry Christians coming at you (especially if you are not aware of any action against them) does little to make your religious liberty feel secure. Then you, in turn, feel the need to defend what you perceive as an assault. And so it goes, on and on in likely escalation if we don’t mind the exaggerations that come out of our mouths.

And this kind of “die on the hill” rhetoric also does what C.S. Lewis refers to as making “black blacker” as it creates an aggressive, powerful and villainous foe out of a largely disorganized minority of people. Read Lewis HERE.

While we’re on this topic, take a look at our We the Wiki Faith & Politics space. Feel free to add a topic and toss in what you think is important. Opposing views, when expressed with civility, are warmly welcome.

Bloomberg on founding principles

“There are a lot of people who’ve said things I don’t agree with. But if I want to say what I believe, I’ve got to let you say what you believe, even if I violently disagree with it and even if I find it despicable.” NYC Michael Bloomberg on Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan, last week on The Daily Show

Find the beginnings of a We the Wiki page on this debate HERE. Log in and add your information to the post.

On election day in my neighborhood

Before all of our events, we plaster the town with posters so people know what we’re up to. That includes grocery stores, public bulletin boards, churches and your living room if you’re willing. We get all sorts of responses to the plastering, from warm welcomes to recitations of no-poster policies.

A couple of years ago we took a poster for Faith & The Founding Fathers to a large conservative church in town. I thought that was a safe topic and – as always – we want to invite as wide a diversity of opinion as we can to the table. Staff there said, as churches and some businesses usually do, that they have to get the OK of the pastor. A couple days later I got a call that it wasn’t approved and that I could come by to pick up my poster. I thought it was particularly kind and respectful of them to bother to call me back to get my poster (and wasn’t likely easy). (more…)