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The Christian Science Monitor: Civil discourse that doesn’t taste like broccoli

The Christian Science MonitorVillage Square co-founder Liz Joyner in The Christian Science Monitor:

From TALLAHASSEE, FLA. — In the early 1800s, things weren’t looking particularly good for the American experiment in self-governance. Coming to Washington with differences of opinion natural to a vast new land, early legislators lived and ate in boarding houses that became entrenched voting blocs. Thomas Jefferson wrote that these men came to work “in a spirit of avowed misunderstanding, without the smallest wish to agree.”

Apparently neither human nature nor legislatures have changed much since.

Read the entire article online at csmonitor.com.



Quotable: Apparently something some people knew a really (really) long time ago.

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“The more men of good hearts associate, the better they think of each other.”

–Unnamed Federalist Senator, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (from The Washington Community, James Sterling Young)

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This is a topic near and dear to our hearts at the Village Square, as the notion of the Village Square was philosophically drawn from the Jeffersonian dinners hosted by the third president, partly in an effort to get the early “tribal” legislators to interact with each other. Our motive at the Village Square is to engage liberals and conservatives. Here’s a fabulous description of the events written by newly-created Washington Intelligencer Publisher Margaret Bayard Smith, a frequent dinner guest of Jefferson:

At his usual dinner parties the company seldom or ever exceeded fourteen, including himself and his secretary. The invitations were not given promiscuously, or as has been done of late years, alphabetically, but his guests were generally selected in reference to their tastes, habits and suitability in all respects, which attention had a wonderful effect in making his parties more agreeable, than dinner parties usually are; this limited number prevented the company’s forming little knots and carrying on in undertones separate conversations, a custom so common and almost unavoidable in a large party. At Mr. Jefferson’s table the conversation was general; every guest was entertained and interested in whatever topic was discussed.

One circumstance, though minute in itself, had certainly a great influence on the conversational powers of Mr. Jefferson’s guests. Instead of being arrayed in strait parallel lines, where they could not see the countenances of those who sat on the same side, they encircled a round, or oval table where all could see each others faces, and feel the animating influence of looks as well as of words. Let any dinner giver try the experiment and he will certainly be convinced of the truth of this fact. A small, well assorted company, seated around a circular table will ensure more social enjoyment, than any of the appliances of wealth and splendor, without these concomitants.

YES. We say, yes.



Civil Politics: More Information does not necessarily lead to Civility

logo-civil-politicsFrom CivilPolitics.org:

A recent article by Ezra Klein at Vox.com eloquently makes an argument that we at CivilPolitics have also done a lot of research in support of – specifically, that if you want to affect many behaviors, you cannot just appeal to individuals’ sense of reason. The article is well worth a complete read and is excerpted below, but the gist of it details a simple clear study by Dan Kahan and colleagues, showing that individuals who are good at math stop using their rational skills when the use of those skills would threaten their values.

Read the entire CivilPolitics post online here.

Read the Ezra Klein piece here.



Independent Voter Network: The Village Square

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A profile of the Village Square by Glenn Davis published by Independent Voter Network:

“All politics is local.” – former House Speaker Tip O’Neill

The Village Square is about as local and as grassroots as an organization can get, taking a very bottom-up approach to problem-solving. They serve as brokers of conversation with the goal of setting a friendly tone in civic debate. They are about agreeing to disagree, but doing so in a manner where opposing views are respected and listened to. They are about discussing facts, not distortions, and reaching conclusions after the facts are understood. They are about celebrating what unites us, and engaging in civil, open discussions of what may divide us.

Read the entire article at IVN.us



Fareed Zakaria: Why we believe in conspiracy theories



Tallahassee Democrat: Pub gathering energizes Village Square’s town hall meetings

Club of Honest Citizens 1From the Tallahassee Democrat, Friday March 28, by Karl Etters: (Photo credit: Amanda Rodriguez, Leon County)

In the pub-centric style of town hall gatherings in the 1700s, Tallahassee-area residents, dubbed The Club of Honest Citizens, met Thursday night to discuss issues that affect the capital city.

But there were no powdered wigs or declarations, just a host of ideas on how to better the community based on four topics — economic development, library services, growth and health care with the theme “What is the proper role of government?”

Part of a formal partnership between the Village Square and the Leon County Commission, the first of three meetings is meant to be a place for open social discourse and engagement about the community.

Village Square Executive Director Liz Joyner said the old way of civil engagement surrounding formal meetings needed a revamp and a more positive way to bring people who differ together.

Read the entire article online at Tallahassee.com.



Luck O The Irish to you

(Photo credit.)



Happy Pi Day


(Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson)



Happy Pi Day


(Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson)



Today is Town Meeting Day in Vermont

Here’s to the Town Hall. We are true believers. Town Hall Meeting Day gives us one more excuse to link to Maira Kalman’s NY Times “And the Pursuit of Happiness” blog for “So Moved:” HERE. It is must read.



Check out St. Pete Village Square’s upcoming event



Florence Snyder: Palm Beach Post’s O’Meilia leaves his mark in scrapbooks – and hearts – across America

O'MeiliaMuckraking matters, but the true test of a newspaper’s mettle is its day to day commitment to telling ordinary stories in extraordinary ways.

Florida lost one of its most gifted—and beloved—storytellers Saturday when Tim O’Meilia, 65, succumbed to cancer.

O’Meilia leaves behind wife Debbie, sons Rolly and Casey, and generations of Florida journalists who took instruction and inspiration from the body of work he produced for The Palm Beach Post from 1972- 2008.

A look at the guest book for people wishing to leave condolences on The Post’s website could double as a textbook for what makes a great reporter.

“I had the express joy of knowing him for a decade,” wrote Elizabeth Dashiell of Jupiter. “He covered the Science Museum, and came out for all of our major (and minor!) events. He was a gentleman, brilliant writer and warm caring person. I loved reading his articles and loved even more spending time with him, talking about local places and strange things. He shared my love of the unusual and knew the best way to describe Florida’s uniqueness.”

O’Meilia was a low-maintainence general assignment guy who could always be counted upon to produce a high-impact story.

“Because of his ability to turn a non-story into a great read for the front page, Tim was always picked to handle the quirky piece. He was the “go-to guy” in the newsroom. He never complained — not once — and always turned the story into something worth taking the time to read. He was a real pro, a great guy and I don’t know anyone who didn’t enjoy working with him,” wrote Pete Ebel, one of the many editors who loved to handle O’Meilia’s consistently close-to-perfect copy.

Kathryn Quigley of Deptford, New Jersey “…had the pleasure of sitting next to Tim in The Post newsroom from 2000-2002. I loved seeing his sly smile and hearing his confident, quiet way with sources on the phone. ”

Investigative reporter-turned filmmaker Gary Kane weighed in from New York: “…..Yes, you CAN believe everything he wrote, whether it was a story about a Lake Worth zoning squabble or the mating rituals of turkey vultures. No factual errors. No misquotes. He wrote with a clear, concise style. His storytelling was honest, thoughtful, clever. I imagine that countless stories carrying the Tim O’Meilia byline have been clipped and pasted in scrapbooks or tucked in boxes of mementos. Tim wasn’t a newsroom prima donna. He….wasn’t obsessed with becoming a brand. He was simply a journalist. A damn fine one….”

An especially poignant tribute comes from The Post’s veteran courts reporter, Susan Spencer-Wendel, who reported her own story of living with purpose and joy following a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease. “Tim made writing look easy,” wrote Wendel, who tapped her best-selling memoir, “Before I Say Goodbye” out on an iPhone, one character at a time. “I loved his stories about a comet buzzing by or the new jaguar born at the zoo. There was such delight in them. He was a true gentleman and a fine and fair reporter.”

Post Director of Administration Lynn Kalber speaks for many others who think “Tim was part of that small, unique percentage of newspaper writers: Everything he wrote was gold. He made it look easy. He made us care about all of it. He taught us all kinds of things without letting us know we were learning. And to cap all of it off, he was one of the nicest guys around….”

O’Meilia, a Notre Dame graduate, could have spent most of his career at bigger papers with bigger audiences for bigger money. But as the condolences continue to pour in from all over the country, it’s hard to imagine any way he could have left a bigger mark.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Civil Politics is talking about Tuesday night’s dinner in Tallahassee

From Civil Politics:

One of the most general and robust findings in social psychology is the power of situations to shape behavior. For example, if you are in a situation where you are competing with others, you will tend to dislike them, whereas when you are cooperating with them, you will tend to like them. This is relatively intuitive, yet we often fail to appreciate this in practice, and then we end up amazed when arbitrary groups put in competition end up in deep conflict. If artificially created competitions can inflame divisions (e.g. sports fandom usually pits very similar people against each other), perhaps we can also manufacture cooperation to reduce division.

Read the whole post here.