Upcoming Forum: My Truth Is Your PropagandaThroughout the year, Beyond Civility puts on numerous public events which encourage discussion on complicated and divisive topics that affect the community. These events are known as our “public forums,” previously referred to as “public programs.” These public forums have been facilitated through panel discussions as well as through “back-to-backs” and “side-by-sides.”

Arguments are rarely productive when we feel we aren’t being heard or understood.  We tend to keep repeating ourselves, usually at higher volumes!  If you want to stop someone from shouting and improve the chances of their listening to you, first demonstrate that you understand their point.

In Back-to-Backs, high profile advocates of opposing positions on important legal or public policy issues agree to articulate as convincingly as possible the other side’s views.  They must keep at it until the person on the other side says “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Back-to-Backs are challenging, as you can imagine, but they’re fun, engaging and informative.  They also demonstrate a skill notably lacking in today’s polarized political climate: the ability to understand and show respect for someone else’s position even while believing and advocating to the contrary.  Trying on the shoes of others, especially those with whom we most strongly disagree, can open minds and soften hearts.

Doing this requires self-confidence, courage and determination.  We are grateful to all of our participants for stepping forward to demonstrate this depolarizing exercise, and hope others – politicians and citizens alike – will follow their example and try it themselves.

Try This at Home

It is easy to objectify and demonize people we don’t know personally. We know that with many friends and family members relationships foster empathy and compassion that can trump animosities that arise from differences in values and opinions. Unfortunately, it seems Americans have few personal relationships with people other than family who don’t share their politics or ideology.

Side-by-Side events break down stereotypes and invite audiences to come to know local political figures as unique individuals.  Typically, two politicians — a Democrat and a Republican – take turns answering questions designed to elicit stories about and reflections on their formative early life experiences.  Audiences report overwhelming increases in respect for the politicians holding views least like their own and in confidence that they could have a constructive conversation with them.  Similarly, Side-by-Side presenters themselves seem to find bonds of recognition and respect that can support trust and collaboration in the future.

Try This at Home

Beyond Civility’s past public forums