Dialogue Across Differences
November 11 @ 9:30 am - 12:30 pm$10 - $40
Led by Rick Longinotti, Marriage and Family Therapist and political activist
Preregistration is required as seating is limited to 20. Register here.
Polls indicate that Americans want civil dialogue. We want to be able to disagree without slinging mud. We want our politicians to solve problems without resort to negative attacks on the opposition.
So why are political campaigns still filled with attacks on character? Why are the editorial pages on any day filled with labels like “hypocrite”, “spineless”, “ignorant”, “foolish”, etc.? And social media and online media sites can be venomous.
In theory, most of us agree it’s a bad idea to label people, to malign someone’s character, to demonize the opposition. Yet, when an injustice occurs that deeply disturbs us, we can’t seem to help ourselves. Our moral outrage takes exception to our intention to be civil. We protest, “But he really is a hypocritical fool!”
We may hold the belief that the language of personal condemnation is effective in exposing injustice and “righting wrongs”. Most of us were taught in childhood to learn right from wrong. We were shamed into learning it by language that blamed and criticized us. So language intended to elicit shame is part of our arsenal in our efforts to correct injustice.
We may even suspect that without our moral outrage, we would never take action. Out of that belief, we use the language of moral outrage to inspire others to action. And so our political speech is less concerned with communicating across differences, and more about rallying the partisans.
A strong current in our American history is about demonizing our opposition—literally and figuratively painting the “other” as demonic. From the Puritan sermons against Indians and witches, to Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, we’ve used God to create a barrier between us and them. We still think in this way— only the details have been secularized.
But there is another strong American tradition of building bridges of empathy over the chasm that divides us. This tradition includes the Quakers in William Penn’s colony who lived in peace for 118 years with their Native American neighbors. It includes Lincoln’s expression of “malice toward none, charity towards all” even after hundreds of thousands had killed each other in the Civil War. It includes the movement led by Martin Luther King, who had “a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
In the tradition of building bridges, Nonviolent Communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., is a tool for political speech that can be both powerful in bringing awareness to the harmful effects of injustice and useful for connecting across differences. It starts with the assumption that all people have the same needs. What we disagree about are the strategies to meet those needs. When we clear our minds of disapproval of the other person, we can enter a dialogue that focuses on how to best meet the needs of all.
Transforming our disapproval of others involves an effort of empathy. When someone is not acting in harmony with our values we look past the action to discover the need they are trying to meet. We ask ourselves, “What is preventing this person from acting in a way that I would like?” This is a simple concept, but hard to practice.
Join us for this workshop in which we’ll use role plays to experiment with fashioning political speech that is powerful and connecting.