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A UVA alum weighs in on Charlottesville: casting out hate with civility

By Billy Binion. Reprinted from Huffington Post5994832522000038001a64be.jpg

It’s rare that people across the political aisle find common ground on much of anything these days. Health care, tax law, abortion, gun rights, and a litany of other issues will almost certainly continue to divide us for years to come. But the repugnant white nationalist march at the University of Virginia seems to be an area that transcends partisanship — something we can all uniformly oppose.

I graduated from UVA in 2013. While the university wasn’t perfect, I appreciated it for what it was — a place that values intellectual curiosity, rigor, and diversity of background, experience, and thought. Its history is certainly complex and flawed, but at the risk of sounding trite, the present-day community has a particular strength of spirit that pushed me to be better. It’s a life force that drastically contradicts the protests — and the ideology — perpetuated by white supremacists this past weekend.

Which is one of the many reasons I was relieved to see people of all persuasions denouncing the acts of terror.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, unambiguously condemned the alt-right demonstrations, stating, “White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated.” The Democratic Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, expressed a similar viewpoint, saying that, “The acts and rhetoric in #Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable & must stop. A right to speech is not a right to violence.” Republican Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John McCain joined with Democratic Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer in issuing unapologetic condemnations of the nationalist rally.

But while the vast majority agree that the neo-Nazi display was obscene, tragically ending in the death of Heather Heyer, we’re still quarreling along partisan lines. Not about the nature of the events, but about who’s to blame.

Case and point: network news in the proceeding days has been, to be candid, a hot mess — even muggier than usual. I’ve grown accustomed to the arguing on prime time, but recent interviews constitute a sea of shouting matches so loud that the anchors are left desperately trying to regain a semblance of civility.



Energy conversations - finding common ground for a better energy future

By Susan Abahazy. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

I held my first Community Energy Conversation after a brainstorming meeting about how to  contact diverse groups of people and invite their participation.  I decided that my neighbors were a diverse group.   I invited the following:  The mechanic who had owned his own repair shop and raced any motorized vehicle that would go fast, the retired engineer and his wife (who had worked in the home raising the kids one of whom had a severe physical handicap),  and the software designer who owns his own company.  I thought this was diverse enough.  In fact, as I thought about it, I began to have some trepidation about how the conversation would go.  I know them all and they do not think the same way.  I was worried that maybe I had done too good of a job with the diversity factor.  I wasn’t sure how the conversation would go or if I could control it if opinions flared and we had a heated discussion.  I have no formal background in energy and I knew I wasn’t an expert; I was just interested in making a better energy future.


A mosaic - what picture will we piece together?

mosaic-787616_960_720.jpgBy Mary Gaylord. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing a Living Room Conversation via video technology on the topic of Faith and Religion in Society. I have done many Living Room Conversations but this one was one of my favorites. 

Because we met digitally, we were able to come together as people that ordinarily might never cross paths. Participants included an agnostic, a woman raised in the Catholic tradition, a man raised in the Mormon tradition, an Indian man with a strong spiritual practice, a young woman of the southern Christian tradition, and a yoga teacher. We span the Midwest, the Bay area, Utah, Texas, Virginia, Colorado and DC, from towns large and small. We are conservative, moderate, and progressive. Our ages run from 20-something to 70-something.


Science can change dialogue on LGBT rights and religious freedom

597a20721a00001500dc0da3.jpgBy the Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen and Derek Monson. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

What do advocates for LGBT rights and religious freedom have in common? According to science, both have a tendency toward prejudice and intolerance. Fortunately for society, there is also hope for overcoming these human failings and living together peacefully, with our rights equally protected.

We, the authors, as individuals – one a tireless advocate for LGBT rights, another a passionate defender of religious freedom – have learned for ourselves what Living Room Conversations teaches every day: engaging in genuine dialogue is a big part of the answer. When listening becomes as important (or, ideally, more important) than speaking, it leads to unexpected agreement and can overcome human propensities being discovered by science.



Free speech or hate Speech? where do we draw the line?

By Serena Witherspoon. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

Spring semester 2017 at UC Berkeley followed the precedent of tension that was set after Trump’s inauguration in the Fall. The presence of the ‘Trump’ booth on campus irked many, triggered others, and validated some. The Berkeley College Republicans invited right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in February to give a speech that was canceled due to mass protest. Later in April the same organization asked Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, to speak on campus.

On the day of Ann Coulter’s intended speech police officers filled the campus. There was no prior information provided to me as to why Sproul, the South facing entrance to campus and generally most populated area, was covered in police - but the general sentiment was to get off of campus and the surrounding area. I was not allowed to walk my bike through certain areas because I was told my U-lock was considered a potential weapon.


When southern conservatives & san francisco liberals listened first

By Pearce Godwin. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

While celebrating Independence Day, I reflected on the current condition of America. There’s not much we can all agree on these days, but on this I believe there’s common ground: the fabric of our society is frayed; civil discourse is in peril.

Hatred and fear are increasingly drowning out humanity and friendship. Basic decency has given way to demagoguery. Rancor has replaced relationships. We have become so blinded by the polarization and tribalization of American society that we often cannot see another person as anything but an ideology to be despised and defeated. 

This is not “those people’s” problem. It’s my problem. And it’s your problem. A problem we can only solve together. 

My Listen First Project facilitates greater understanding, respect and cooperation by encouraging the timeless but abandoned practice of listening to each other, especially to those with whom we disagree. As I’ve shared our message across the country, I’ve been inspired by other leaders and organizations passionately promoting and practicing listening to improve relationships and public discourse. Listen First Project now collaborates with these organizations as The Listening Coalition – multiplying our impact coast to coast.


Maybe it's time for a declaration of interdependence

By Randy L. Langford. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

My study of, and experience in, our society’s “justice” system has led me to believe it’s functioning as intended. I don’t believe we can “fix” the system because I don’t think the system is broken. I think our justice system is operating precisely as designed and in alignment with the social philosophy on which it is based. I’m not alone in this view. A growing number of researchers, academics, and practitioners share this perspective. 

In her book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander provides a plethora of evidence and anecdotes to explain and establish that nothing less than a bottom up redesign of our justice system based on a different social philosophy will address the egregious injustice we observe on a daily basis and throughout history. The operative consideration for change is the adoption of a different social philosophy which will inform social structure, systems, institutions, and culture.


Connecting students across the partisan divide

By Kent Lenci. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

About two years ago, I found myself wandering the streets of Birmingham, Alabama. The city was eerily deserted on a Sunday evening, and I filled the space with scenes from civil rights films-- Klansmen parading down the sidewalk in defiance of sit- ins, and police dogs snarling at protesters. As darkness set in, I almost expected Bull Connor himself to dart out of the shadows, seize his bullhorn, and order me back onto the plane that had just brought me from Boston.

I am a teacher, and I was in Birmingham to meet a colleague who had agreed to connect his students with my own in Massachusetts to discuss civil rights, race, the Civil War... and each other. Our collaboration was meant to help students acknowledge stereotypes of the “other,” across the Mason Dixon line, but I’ll admit to having harbored my own preconceptions about life in Dixie. Three days after my arrival, though, I left Birmingham feeling that the city had not just weathered the Civil Rights Movement, but that it could teach Boston a thing or two about racial awareness. 

The case for civil discourse

By Billy Binion. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

If you’ve tuned into the news at all within the last year, you’re aware of at least one thing – the political climate has reached a boiling point. 

There was the 2016 election, uncharacteristically venomous and unrelenting in its penchant for drama. In May, we saw a congressional candidate body slam a reporterfor simply asking a question on health care reform. And most recently, there was the tragic shooting in Alexandria, VA – where a gunman opened fire on the GOP’s practice for the Congressional Baseball Game, critically wounding Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La).

But the most striking part of the recent press coverage has been the resulting call for unity on both sides of the political aisle, perhaps more emphatic than ever before. The annual baseball match went on as scheduled last Thursday evening – Democrats vs. Republicans – in what could have been an ominous metaphor for the polarized partisan environment we’re in today. However, the real story seems to be that, for one evening, both parties played on the same team.


A tale of two fathers

Picture1.png By Mary Gaylord. Reprinted from Huffington Post

My father is a conservative, mid-western man of great principle. He is a practicing Catholic, a devoted husband, and he’s the first person I know of to recycle and compost. He loves the wilderness, he loves to garden, and he has volunteered countless hours to the community food bank in his small rural town in Wisconsin. 

He is Republican and he voted for Donald Trump.

My father-in-law is the most progressive person I know of his generation. He lives in a bedroom community in New Jersey. He has great devotion to family and friends and would give you the shirt off his back any day of the week. He has traveled the world and seen humanity in all it’s forms. He and my mother-in-law like to play the “who was poorer” game when talking about their childhood experiences growing up in rural Pennsylvania. 

He is Progressive and he voted for Hillary Clinton.