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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.


Fake news: a reflection

By Beth Raps. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

Exactly one week ago, I hopped on a video call without much expectation except to learn more about Living Room Conversations. As our new Development Partner of just about two months’ time, I feel notably clueless: what are these things? how do they work? how on Earth might I host one? And other questions like that. You probably wonder the same thing, unless you’re like our co-founder Debilyn Molineaux, who was probably born hosting dialogue, or our other co-founder Joan Blades, who’s a mediator by profession—and probably genetically!


Can you change the world from your living room?

Americans with different political views may yell at each other but they rarely talk or listen. It’s time to revitalize a different form of political conversation. This is the third article in our series on trans-partisan politics.
by Jacob Hess and Joan Blades. Reprinted from openDemocracy.

Credit: www.livingroomconversations.org. All rights reserved.

There we sat: a Christian pastor, a Catholic, a Mormon and three atheists – six people with opposing views about hot topics in American politics.

How did the room feel?  Energized - no yelling, some laughter, lots of listening and a whole bunch of questions. But so what? Why is this scene even worth a mention?

In the pervasive political hostility of contemporary America, many people have resigned themselves to accept that permanent division - an ongoing absence of productive conversation across political divides - is just the way things are. And little wonder. It's hard to find any venues these days in which those with different social and political views can actually meet each other, at least for anything other than head-on confrontation or festering mutual suspicion.

When you combine the power dynamics involved, the media magnification of conflicts and the underlying influence of moneyed interests, it's difficult to imagine anything really changing between political opponents. 


The role of contempt and self-righteousness (and politics)

By Debilyn Molineaux. Reprinted from Huffington Post.Definition_of_contempt.jpg

Like many people, I grew up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic adult. I was in a constant power struggle with my step-parent and our relationship was fraught with contempt and self-righteousness. At least on my part. I felt powerless and held onto this duo of emotions as a drowning person with a lifejacket. Self-righteousness and contempt kept me afloat. Until they threatened to sink me and my chance for happiness.
As I carried these emotions into adulthood, I used my cloak of self-righteousness to keep and hold power over others. Notably, those closest to me. My “love” was contingent upon obedience to my will. Lack of obedience would result in my contempt; a lack of respect. I was behaving horribly to those I loved most. But why? What was I gaining that kept the cycle going?

Compassionate citizenship: lessons in civility from ken starr

By Sabrina Moyle. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

A month ago, a friend invited to meet Ken Starr. I am politically progressive on most issues and live in San Francisco. I said “yes.” Not only did I say yes, I found common ground with Mr. Starr.

I spent weeks preparing for our meeting. As might be expected, I felt anxious. Mr. Starr had been famously vilified for his role in the Monica Lewinsky investigation, which in turn had provoked the founding of the progressive advocacy organization MoveOn by my friend and collaborator at Living Room Conversations, Joan Blades. He is vocally conservative. During his tenure as President of Baylor University, Texas’ oldest institution of higher learning and the world’s largest Baptist university, a large-scale sexual assault scandal had erupted and is still unfolding.

I chose to start with a clean slate and an open mind. I inquired into my feelings of fear and doubt. I decided to learn more about Mr. Starr in his own words, with the goal of finding common ground.



By Debilyn Molineaux. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

Have you felt it? That societal agitation resulting in more stress, conflict and stubbornness? 

I have. All inside myself.

I find myself avoiding news, certain people and being more abrupt than normal. I want to actively fight against those who are bullies — but sometimes they are just my friends with a different, very strong opinion. This is the result of my internal agitation. My ability to listen is at an all time low. I pride myself on listening.

Not living up to my own standards adds more stress and agitation, leading to more conflict. AARGH!

I feel like my car just broke down. We were on our journey — paying attention to our lives, cogitating on what we were going to do next when… BAM! We threw a rod right through the case. In case you are not mechanically inclined, this is fatal for the car, pending a new engine. In real life, I get agitated for flat tires and other minor car inconveniences. Agitation is normal when dealing with inconvenience, disappointment and downright change of circumstances.


Responding to the petri dish of hate

By Brandy Mello. Reprinted from Huffington Post

With the shift in the American political climate, a slew of controversial speakers are gaining widespread attention. They’ve always had the platform, but the current outrage and occasional violent response puts them on a global stage. When protests turn into riots, the controversial speaker becomes a constitutional martyr and the protester a destroyer of democracy.

As Americans, we have the constitutional freedom to choose religion, to form groups and to speak freely about our beliefs. The First Amendment offers protection of expression and speech, even hateful provoking speech. The United States Constitution does not police public speech of its citizenry. While hateful speech is constitutionally protected, acts of violence are not. In response to offensive speech, we have the right to counter in protest – peacefully.

The day Ann Coulter’s speaking event on the Berkeley campus was canceled, I participated in a Living Room Conversation about Free Speech on Campus. The discussion group consisted of two University students (one being a Berkeley student), a parent of a college student and two other parents of younger children. This is my takeaway from that exchange.



Living room conversations: a highly effective platform

By Sharon V. Kristjanson. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

I hosted a Living Room Conversation for the first time and was delighted with the outcome. We were six people from different walks of life, with a range of experiences and perspectives. We would not normally have crossed paths, much less shared a dinner table and a few bottles of wine together, but we had sufficient interest and comfort to talk for four hours instead of two!

Our topic was viewpoint diversity on campuses, and how to balance free speech with appropriate consideration to the impact of certain types of speech. At times, it seemed we wandered from the designated topic, but in fact we were laying out the complexity of the subject and revealing how it touches and is influenced by so many other factors. 

I was also struck by the sincerity of everyone wanting to contribute thoughtful ideas. We all remained fully engaged throughout the evening and we discussed many different issues and perspectives. Some listened more while others spoke more, as befit their personalities, but all participated. We wandered in and out of vulnerability, which is not easy to do with people we have just met, and this added depth. 


Who will save America?

By Mary Gaylord. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

“If America is to be saved, it won’t be because we are us. It won’t be because some columnist wrote soothing words. It will be because enough of us decided America was worth fighting for, and did.” - Leonard Pitts Jr, America is still well worth fighting for

This week, I’ve found myself revisiting these words over and over again; turning them over in my head, trying to make sense of them; trying to find the real meaning; and the corresponding action required.

The first part’s easy — we’re not going to be saved just because “we are us.” America won’t be saved by simply believing that everything will turn out O.K. or by thinking somebody else will solve our problems. While some things do just seem to autocorrect, America, is not one of them.

Mr Pitts’ second statement also rings true. Yes, there is great power in the written word, and while it is one of many ways to fight for America it alone is not enough to save America.

So that brings us to the idea that saving America requires that enough of us decide America is worth fighting for and we get down to the business of doing it.