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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.


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.


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.