Democracy, Extremism, and Outliers

Conversation Guide

Under democratic governance structures, people enjoy freedom to believe as they choose, speak freely and advocate for their beliefs. Individuals like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the movement giving women the right to vote, and were seen as “extremist.” Another “extremist,” Frederick Douglas corresponded with and influenced the U.S. President on matters of racial equality. Still other “extremists” brought us witch trials, McCarthyism and the Holocaust. Given the societal impulse to label anyone outside of the mainstream “extreme,” how can we better distinguish and then support outliers who are advancing worthy causes?

Background Information:

While you don't need to be an expert on this topic, sometimes people want background information. Our partner, AllSides, has prepared a variety of articles reflecting multiple sides of this topic.

Let's Get Started!

This Living Room Conversation flows through five rounds of questions and a closing. Some rounds ask you to answer each question. Others feature multiple questions that serve as conversation starters — you need only respond to the one or two you find most interesting.

Before you Begin...

Please go over the Conversation Agreements with your participants.

ONE: Why are we here?

What interested you or drew you to this topic?

TWO: Your core values

Answer one or more of the following:

  • What sense of purpose or duty guides you in life? What is your mission statement?
  • What would your best friend say about who you are and what makes you tick?
  • What are your hopes and concerns for your community and/or the country, now and long-term?
THREE:

Democracy, Extremism, and Outliers

Remember that the goal of this Living Room Conversation is for each participant to listen to and learn about the different opinions within the group to see where you might share interests, intentions, and goals.

Answer one or more of the following:

  • Who would you say are the individuals and groups that are outliers today? What do you think of their ideas?
  • How do you decide what is extreme, or so outside the norm, that it’s “crazy” or “dangerous” to society?
  • What beliefs do you have that others consider “extreme”?
  • What positive or negative things have you experienced or observed in outlier groups?

FOUR: Reflection

Answer one or more of the following:

  • In one sentence, share what was most meaningful or valuable to you in the experience of this Living Room Conversation?
  • What new understanding or common ground did you find within this topic?
  • Has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group, including yourself?

FIVE: Accomplishment and moving forward

Answer both of the following questions:

  • Name one important thing that was accomplished here.
  • Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?

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