On February 11th, nearly 200 people gathered at St. John’s Unitarian Church to hear an outspoken proponent of capital punishment, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, and the Director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, David Singleton, a strong opponent of the death penalty, argue the other side’s position on Ohio’s death penalty.
While the audience probably wasn’t sure what to expect, what they got was a spellbinding and award worthy performance. For almost 90 minutes, each of these lawyers played the role of the other as they answered provocative questions about the morality and efficacy of capital punishment. And they did so with emotion that seemed real enough that at times it was hard to be sure who believed what!
The purpose of these Back-to-Back events is to loosen the iron grip our opinions and beliefs have on the doors and windows of our minds. For the presenters, to walk in the other person’s shoes, even for an hour, can bring them a perspective they otherwise would not experience. For audience members, hearing opinions contrary to their own beliefs expressed by an ideological ally can create enough cognitive dissonance to open those windows a crack and allow contrary views to be considered more respectfully. Judging from the tone of the audience’s questions and the summary of their evaluations the event was highly successful.
This was probably the toughest Back-to-Back topic Beyond Civility has tackled to date.