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Bipartisan Policy Center: Working Together to Reform the U.S. Health System

The Bipartisan Policy Center, founded by former Senators Bob Dole, George Mitchell, Howard Baker and Tom Daschle has produced a report called Crossing Our Lines: Working Together to Reform the U.S. Health System. The short version of the report offers very specific bulleted recommendations toward the end of the download. It’s worth a read (although – warning – it’s a bit wonky).

(Watch their video above for very Village Square-ish viewing.)



Obama: “Where we disagree, let’s disagree about what is real.”

Good idea. (That’s all.)



C.S. Lewis: Wishing that black was a little blacker

leaFor this quote, hat tip to Lea*, who somehow seems to know when anyone discusses civility on any blog across America at the same time as she drives her kids around town in endless loops, takes beautiful pictures of everyone she knows and pursues her career as a thespian in Young Actors Theatre’s Celebrity Edition of High School Musical (tired just writing all this)…

From C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

The liberal Washington Monthly blogger who brings us this quote continues:

If you give in to “the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible”, it’s easy to see how you could end up thinking things about them that it is implausible to think about any group of human beings.. Your opponents become cartoons in your mind, and the normal duty to be charitable and generous, or even realistic, in your views about other people seem not to apply to them. You stop thinking of them as fellow human beings, and start thinking of them as enemies…

No one — not liberals, not conservatives — should forget that their opponents are human beings. And no one can afford to start down the road Lewis describes, in which you allow yourself to be disappointed when your opponents aren’t as bad as you first thought, or want them to be as bad as possible. And no one should get so wrapped up in political fights that in focussing on the mote in someone else’s eye, they lose sight of the beam in their own.

Worth noting is that Lea originally saw this post echoed on a Christian blog Cranach: The Blog of Veith. An iconic Christian author quoted on the blog of a cornerstone left-leaning publication (that I should add my sister used to work for); the left-leaning blog subsequently quoted on a Christian blog.

If you really think about it, all of this makes black a lot less black, eh?

*In the vernacular of this ugly political war we’ve found ourselves in, Lea is my “enemy” and I hers. If you find it impossible to believe that we’re dear friends, you really need to get out more.



John Stuart Mill: “Exchanging error for truth”

writing

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it…If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: If wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error…We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

Photo credit.



Yeeha! The science behind The Village Square

haidtIf you’ve been hanging around with us for a couple of years thinking we might just be onto something, today’s Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times, “Would You Slap Your Father, If So You’re a Liberal,” suggests you’re right. Plus the title is enough to make even our most conservative readers head straight for the Times’ website for a read…

So how do we discipline our brains to be more open-minded, more honest, more empirical? A start is to reach out to moderates on the other side – ideally eating meals with them, for that breaks down “us vs. them” battle lines that seem embedded in us. (In ancient times we divided into tribes; today, into political parties.) The Web site www.civilpolitics.org is an attempt to build this intuitive appreciation for the other side’s morality, even if it’s not our morality.

“Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”

Thus persuasion may be most effective when built on human interactions.

We thought so.



Civility is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

This, from an actual written brainstorming session on grants:

I recognize that Village Square and alcohol shouldn’t formally be bedfellows… I certainly don’t want to encourage tomfoolery which may lead to debauchery then vagrancy, or encourage some sort of “lush” connotation for the organization.

Don’t you wish your grant-writing were half as entertaining?



A Bastille Day Special: Let them eat (purple) cake

LET-THEM-EAT-PURPLE-CAKESeldom have four words ever brought such disastrous consequence to the person who uttered them, or so goes the legend of Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake,” and that nasty business of her public beheading.

While a visit to modern day France finds Versailles proper positively dripping with the wretched excess history has assigned it, Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, the private residence of the French queen, tells a somewhat different story. Rather than the gilded surroundings the king’s riches would surely have afforded her, she built a likeness of a quaint Austrian village, complete with working vineyards and livestock.

Could Marie-Antoinette – symbol the world over of condescending wealth – be misunderstood? My trip to France last summer had me scratching my head and returning home to learn more about the queen we love to hate.

Turns out the words we’ve put in poor Marie-Antoinette’s mouth may have been spoken – if spoken at all – by the wife of a different King Louis decades earlier. And even if the doomed queen had said it, a familiarity with French law regulating the price of bread suggests she would have probably meant “let them eat expensive bread with less flour in it for the same price,” a rather generous and common sense suggestion during a flour shortage.

We do know that Marie-Antoinette said “it is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.”

Oops.

Apparently when vein-poppingly angry people pick up their pitchforks and roll out the guillotine, they’ve been known to get it wrong from time to time.

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, will be given away as a door prize at a coming Village Square dinner!

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, actual Village Square door prize!

As uber-partisanship and the culture war have opened a gulf between us, we have been toting our own pitchforks lately. We’ve created opposing custom-ordered villains a la Marie-Antoinette, complete with oft-repeated misquotes, half quotes, and an occasional story spun of whole cloth.

In Revolutionary France, misinformation about the queen was fueled by the libelles – venomous slander-filled booklets produced by political opponents. Besting the distribution of French libelles, America’s present day incarnation sends distortions by email clear across the universe tout de suite.

Even as Americans are called to other countries to handle the fallout of ideological hatred gone to seed, we have a homegrown and thankfully only verbal – version of what journalist John Marks calls “wars of absolute dichotomy” brewing, fueled in part by a lot that we’re getting plain wrong about each other.

John, assigned to cover Bosnia for U.S. News & World Report, has seen the danger of absolute dichotomy. He’s since teamed with college roommate filmmaker Craig Detweiler to make the film “Purple State of Mind,”a conversation between friends with different religious worldviews. John and Craig were our Village Square guests in Tallahassee in 2009 – see their program here.

John explains that shaking up partisan red and blue to make “purple” isn’t really about seeking homogenized agreement but “about taking ourselves and our concerns seriously enough to demand the utmost of ourselves and our political and cultural opponents, the utmost in moral and intellectual rigor, the utmost in compassion and decency.”

On the queen’s behalf, I’d add “the utmost in factual accuracy.”

If we’re going to bring the best of America to bear on the big problems ahead, we can ill afford the cartoon version of a civic dialog that neglects the real consequences of creating fictions rather than grasping facts. At another perilous time in our history, the Founding Fathers set a high bar for the debate because they couldn’t afford the luxury of getting it wrong.

Marie-Antoinette met her end at Place de la Concorde, Revolutionary France’s version of our televised public square, where her beheading earned the eighteenth century’s equivalent of high Nielsen ratings. Whether or not she had it coming, most of us would like to think our decision-making has grown to reflect a higher standard in the couple of centuries since, regardless of potential for market share.

As we begin writing the history of what happens next in America, perhaps we can start by at least getting the quotes right. To do that, we might occasionally put down our pitchforks long enough to break bread with someone who doesn’t see it our way. Or, maybe, in a hat tip to learning the lessons of history, we should eat cake instead.

Only this time, make it purple.

______________

Liz Joyner is Executive Director of the Village Square



“The Village Square creates a place for civilized conversation”

By Sharon Kant-Rauch
DEMOCRAT FAITH EDITOR

When Pastor Rick Warren was invited to give the invocation at President-Elect Barack Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration, gays and others on the left raised a loud and vociferous chorus of protest about Warren’s opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

Some on the right were also offended – they say Warren isn’t conservative enough and shouldn’t share the stage with someone who supports a woman’s right to choose.

It’s exactly that kind of political polarization that Liz Joyner and The Village Square, the group she helped found, hope to break. For more than a year, Joyner has brought Democrats and Republicans together every quarter for dinner and what she calls “civilized” conversation – no name-calling and yelling allowed, just thoughtful, engaged discussion.

At Tuesday’s dinner, a bipartisan panel will tackle a particularly thorny topic: Faith in the Public Square.

“We seem to be living in a time when we’ve stopped talking to people we disagree with . . . and we aren’t having good conversations about things that matter,” Joyner said. “I think we can do better than that.”

On Tuesday, Joyner said, she is going to tell the panelists to fight like the Founding Fathers.

“Have a real discussion, but do it with civility and grace.”

The relationship between the co-chairs of The Village Square – City Commissioner Allan Katz and Tallahassee Community College President Bill Law – provides one example of the possibilities for dialogue. Katz, a Democrat, and Law, a Republican, have different views on how to solve social problems, but during periodic jogs together and informal monthly get-togethers, they’ve learned to respect and trust one another’s judgment.

“We come from different places, but we realized that just sitting down together with our talking points wasn’t going to get us anywhere,” said Katz, who will act as moderator for Tuesday’s panel discussion. “We had to be willing to really listen to what the other one was saying.”

Lea Marshall, a Republican who has attended all of The Village Square dinners, said she goes to listen to the speakers she supports. But she often comes away with some truth from the other side.

During the last dinner, for example, which took place before the election, one speaker said that people who believe that only “their guy” could save the country were verging on idolatry.

“That made me look at the election differently,” Marshall said. “The take-home lesson didn’t come from the person I originally went to hear.”

Ken Connor, one of Tuesday’s panelists, said it was important to create a calm atmosphere where people have a chance to listen to the merits of an argument. Connor, an attorney, is the former president of Florida Right to Life and the author of “Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty.”

“If the volume is loud and the face is red, there is little opportunity to convince and persuade one another,” Connor said. “Sounds to me like what The Village Square is saying is ‘Look, we want people to have equal access to the marketplace of ideas.’ I think the outcome of that discussion will demonstrate that some ideas are better than others.”

Connor’s fellow panelists include:

W. Dexter Douglass, an attorney who has practiced Florida law for half a century, was the lead counsel for Al Gore in the infamous “Florida Recount” of 2000 and is a 16-year member of the board of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.

The Rev. Allison DeFoor, who served as vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida from 2002 to 2006, is an Episcopal priest who works in prison ministries and an environmental consultant who has served as director of the Florida Audubon Society and president of the Florida Land Trust Association.

Leo Sandon, a professor emeritus of religion and American studies at FSU, longtime religion columnist for the Tallahassee Democrat and ordained Presbyterian minister.



Liz Joyner: The Seesaw

tree-small.jpgNeither of my kids spent much time on the seesaw at the park in their younger days. If I had to guess why, it would be that it was a little too much work for a day at the park. It was rare when they got a seesaw partner who didn’t require serious weight and momentum adjustment—sliding forward or backward, pushing hard at the bottom to get your end back up in the air, or, as was more often the case with my slender little girls, perched suspended three feet up, pretty much unable to control a thing.

As my sixteen-year-old has grown into a young woman, she’s been exposed to many a political dinner table conversation from the perspective of my side of the political seesaw. But as much as she’s heard me yammer, I’ve only now just noticed that she’s suspended in mid air with her feet dangling, no where near solid ground. I’m afraid I’ve been responsible for providing her only half the argument in a country that requires citizens to understand the whole one.

Trying to give her a shove back down to terra firma, I’ve had a series of conversations with her about—ultimately—what I deeply believe. There’s been a bit of personal political archeology involved here, as, in the daily shuffle, there are times when I’m too immersed in the veneer to reach for the foundation. Here’s where I found my foundation: What lasts, what matters from all of our daily political struggles is what keeps America who we are. What matters is the two-party system that creates a tension of opposites, the left keeping the right from marching into fascism, the right keeping the left from slipping into communism. What lasts is the best ideas that rise to the top, the product of our endless, sometimes painfully difficult dialog. Were it not for the tension, the struggle, we wouldn’t be America.

When power concentrates on one side of this non-stop American seesaw, it’s time for the grown-ups to give it a firm shove on one side. I sense the American public is ready to give a firm parental shove right about now too. But there is risk in this weight adjustment when we’ve been so used to pushing hard and having nothing happen… we risk that we’ll send the other guy miles into the air. Okay, so I’ll admit it, right now that may not seem so bad, but pause for a moment to consider what happens after the other guy’s fanny lands back on the seesaw. I never took physics but I’m fairly sure that all that energy has to go someplace and it may not be pretty when it does.

So, here’s to keeping the big picture in mind as each “side” shoves to get more momentum… hoping there are enough grownups to keep the traffic on the seesaw well-behaved.

_________________

Liz Joyner is the cofounder of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.

**This post represents the genesis of the thinking that would ultimately become The Village Square. I first wrote “The Seesaw” in March of 2006, when the Democrats had no political power. Now they control both Congress and the presidency.

The seesaw works both ways, folks.



Civility 101: A draft

We’ve been thinking for a while now about just how this civility thing might go, and all that thinking has produced some ideas. Just to confuse you, here’s our tickler:

Bring your human brain.
Hold opinion lightly at times.
Eat potato salad, make potato salad.
Recognize horse manure before tracking it.
Find the wedge. Lose the wedge.
Fight like Founding Fathers.
Get (un)personal.
Lose the evil “they.”
Build your vocabulary.
Remove punctuation
Meet your batty brain.
Hold discomfort.
Be a comparison shopper.
Elevate substance over symbolism.
Err on the side of laughter.

Next week we will jump right in to discussion about bringing your human brain and leaving your lizard brain at home (when you come to the Village Square AND – we might humbly suggest as long as we’re being bossy – when you drive and when you vote).



Our radio debut

If you missed The Village Square on the NPR program Perspectives it is now up online here. Click on the “listen now” link for the September 27th show.



A Prayer for the Village Square

This weekend I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa repeat a prayer that seemed particularly appropriate to the work ahead of us at the Village Square.

Oh Lord, where I am wrong, make me willing to change, and where I am right, make me easier to live with.