April 20 through April 28, 2018, has been designated as The National Week of Conversation, with both in-person and online conversations scheduled across the country on a variety of topics. What is sad is that it seems necessary to have a special time to just talk with each other – but what is hopeful is that it is happening!
See https://nationalweekofconversation.org for information and to sign the pledge to “listen first and value understanding each other.” You can find in-person events (many in libraries and faith communities) and online conversations, so you have the ability to find a “venue” that fits with your life and your personal style and the website makes it easy to find events, both physical and virtual. Click on “find a conversation” and you can select from in-person events in your area and online conversations.
In Kansas City, the Kansas City Public Library System is taking the lead and, with public policy nonprofit Consensus, holding several in-person conversations on a variety of topics:
Coming to America: Who Should Be Welcome, What Should We Do? (April 24 at 6 pm at Plaza Branch)
Book Discussion: Not a Crime to Be Poor (April 25 at 11:30 a.m.at Central Library)
Conversations in Black: A Community Conversation About Race (April 26 at 4 p.m. at Southeast Branch)
Political Fix: How Should We Get American Politics Back on Track? (April 26 at 4 p.m. at Plaza Branch)
Coming to America: Who Should Be Welcome, What Should We Do? (April 28 at 1 p.m. at Central Library)
There are, of course, other opportunities for dialogue, from American Public Square to events like “Meet a Muslim” but it is unusual for the idea of conversation itself (as a value) to be in the national spotlight, especially in these times of division. We need to take advantage of this focus to heal the wounds caused by that division.
Although Cultural Crossroads is not able to host a conversation during this specific week, we urge everyone to take these simple steps to help heal the divisions in our society:
- Go to nationalweekofconversation.org and sign the pledge
- Check your schedule and try to either attend an in-person conversation in your area or an online conversation on a topic of interest.
- Share this article with your friends and family and help spread the idea of conversation.
- Go beyond the pledge and make conversation and personal dialogue a part of your everyday life.
We hope, with volunteer support, to be able to host conversations on an ongoing basis, not just during this week. Stay “tuned” for more information. We further hope that everyone will take this week of directed conversation as an impetus for the future – to make open conversation a part of your life. It is easy to get drawn into sometimes contentious disagreements on social media; in fact, human nature is such that we may say things online to unknown people that we would never say to someone’s face. While you will find that some social media comments are made for negative effect, not all comments are so designed. From time to time, a comment you make or an article you share may bring forth a comment from someone with whom you can have a measured dialogue. Treasure those moments and take advantage of the opportunity to share your differing opinions. The true value of those opportunities is not just to show us another viewpoint of a topic, but to remind us of the common humanity we share with others, regardless of our opinions. Remember that a conversation is a two-way conversing, not a debate.
The United States has traditionally been a haven for people of all political, social and religious persuasions and that mixture has always been our strength. (See a future blog post about the vulnerabilities caused by “monoculture” and the corresponding strength of diversity.)
The important first step, incumbent on everyone, is to view others as fellow travelers through this life, not as enemies. Acknowledge the opinions of others and affirm that those opinions have value, just as you want your opinion to be valued. Giving validation to the opinions of others does not mean that you are discarding your own views; it merely means that you are acknowledging that the other person has an opinion that is truly held and that the person has a right to that opinion. A rule of good conversation is to listen fully to what the other person is saying – without internally forming your response.
Just listen – you may learn something or you may leave the conversation with your opinion fully intact (and perhaps even strengthened), but you will leave it without rancor, without bitterness – and with an opportunity to interact again.