Educating the Public on Evidence-based methods for improving inter-group civility.

Join the Transpartisan Listserv!

We in behalf of NCDD are pleased to invite everyone to join the new Transpartisan Listserv. The vocation for this moderated email discussion list is to provide a simple, safe communication channel where individuals and organizations can connect and learn from each other.

The purpose of this listserv is to introduce potential colleagues to one another, expand our knowledge of transpartisan theory and practice, and showcase ongoing activity in the transpartisan field.

Please consider being part of the Transpartisan List if any of the following are true:

  • You are interested in learning more, and sharing what you know, about current efforts to transcend and transform unproductive partisan politics.
  • You want to meet potential colleagues who share your concern and are working to improve research, dialogue, deliberation, collaboration, and improved decision making across party lines.
  • You want to share what you (or your organization) do in this field that you consider “transpartisan” – conversations that break out of the narrow, predictable ideological exchanges.
  • You believe this subject is vital to our country’s future and simply want to learn more about how you might get involved.

You can subscribe to the Transpartisan List by sending a blank email to transpartisan-subscribe-request@lists.thataway.org. Together, we can ask the questions that need to be asked about this challenging field, and seek the answers as a learning community.

Click the link know more about the NCDD & the Transpartisan list: http://ncdd.org/14227

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Healing the Divide by Ruining Lives

[This is a guest post by Robert Fersh, the president of The Convergence Center for Policy Resolution.]

One could be forgiven for thinking that the acrimony and dysfunction that’s come to characterize our national politics is immutable. After all, longtime Congressional observers and the national media have deemed our current crop of elected officials the “most dysfunctional” and “least productive in history”—not exactly awards a well-meaning public servant angles for. The signs of breakdown are everywhere; public approval of Congress recently sunk as low as 9% - the lowest rating since polling began in 1976.

Yet as someone who works with equally passionate, ideologically opposed groups to find points of common ground on national issues, I can tell you it does not need to be this way.

It’s true that we have a wide spectrum of opinions and temperaments in our debates, but differing views don’t have to roil the nation and paralyze us from acting.  The creative tension among strong, opposing views can fuel better solutions than any one party or political perspective can provide.

The secret is to engage with others, with a focus on listening and respect, rather than on questioning motives or winning debates.  This is not a blind plea for politeness; this is hard work. It requires discipline and patience, and welcomes respectful argument.  If practiced well, this approach won’t just yield civility, but also not-otherwise-possible solutions that energize and inspire all participants. We not only need politicians and political leaders to do this, but also myriad organizations, businesses, civil society groups, and citizens as well.

Several years ago, I directed a project involving top, and often conflicting, national organizations attempting to find common ground on health care coverage for the uninsured. The participants’ ideological differences were, from a distance, not unlike those that led to the 2013 government shutdown.  Yet this group of “strange bedfellows” managed to agree on substantive recommendations and a plan to work together to provide health coverage to most of the then-estimated 47 million Americans who lacked it. Some of their key recommendations have since been enacted into law.

The process not only achieved dramatic policy results, but also deeply affected the individuals involved. One participant from a physicians group told me: “When we started, I thought I knew exactly how to cover the uninsured. My group had thought this through. We had the right answer.  And now, after spending time with all these smart, caring people from other places, I cannot see the world or this issue the same way.  You have ruined my life!”

As another think tank participant put it, “I had known most of these people for many years. Yet in this process, an entirely different dynamic and better result occurred because we took the time to really understand each other and address the concerns each of us had, rather than just blindly advocate for what we believed when we started.”

There’s a simple lesson at play: None of us wants our own views discounted or demonized, but we routinely do that to the “other side.”  For us, the golden rule seems to apply only to those we perceive to share our values and viewpoints.

We’re no Pollyannas. We understand that this process may not work for all topics at all times.  But there is a track record of success in various policy arenas and there are experienced, skilled practitioners who are ready to serve the nation.  And there are glimmers of hope in Congress, including bipartisan cooperation on immigration reform and a newly reached budget deal.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, said in an interview in 2012: “Wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other.  That’s what our political institutions used to do, but they don’t do anymore.”

Polarization and gridlock don’t have to be permanent political watchwords if we can find leaders from all sectors with the courage to embrace a new approach.  If we actively engage those who disagree with us, we may “ruin” some lives, but we will be all the better for it.

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Robert J. Fersh is the president of Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, a national organization that convenes people and groups with conflicting views to build trust, identify solutions, and form alliances for action on critical national issues. He has held leadership positions working for Congress, in the Executive Branch, and in the non-profit sector in Washington, DC for over 35 years.

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Event: The 2014 Harvard Negotiation Law Review Symposium: Political Dialogue and Civility in an Age of Polarization

Harvard and The Program on Negotiation is sponsoring an event: The 2014 Harvard Negotiation Law Review Symposium: Political Dialogue and Civility in an Age of Polarization. It will be held at Austin Hall, Harvard Law School Campus on Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:00 am – 4:30pm. The event will be free and open to public, click the link to register for the event.

Polarization and the damage it causes are evident in political and civic life and  impede a more thoughtful and productive dialogue. Policy makers, lawyers, and scholars will be discussing the ways in which negotiation, mediation, and other dispute resolution skills can improve the quality of our civic engagement and, ultimately, our political system.

The conference’s focus will be on applying ADR principles to overcome the polarization rampant in today’s politics. Panelists will both discuss the theoretical and practical frameworks, with a focus on dispute resolution strategies that have successfully resolved domestic and international policy issues in the past.

Host and producer of the award winning public radio program “On Being”,  Krista Tippett will be the keynote speaker for the event.

Panelists of the event:

  • Peter Ambler, Founder, Strategy Director at Americans for Responsible Solutions and Special Adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy
  • Tom Bonier, Co-Founder and Partner at Clarity Campaign Labs
  • Robert Bordone, Founding Director of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Program on Negotiation
  • Jim Flug, whose long political career included and appointment as Chief Counsel to Senator Ted Kennedy
  • Carolyn Lukensmeyer, founder of AmericaSpeaks and Consultant to the White House Chief of Staff during the Clinton administration
  • Michael Ostrolenk, National Director of the Liberty Coalition

Detailed schedule for the symposium. For more information, please visit HNLR’s website.

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Creating Shared Goals Using The Asteroids Club Paradigm

One of the most general and robust findings in social psychology is the power of situations to shape behavior.  For example, if you are in a situation where you are competing with others, you will tend to dislike them, whereas when you are cooperating with them, you will tend to like them.  This is relatively intuitive, yet we often fail to appreciate this in practice, and then we end up amazed when arbitrary groups put in competition end up in deep conflict.  If artificially created competitions can inflame divisions (e.g. sports fandom usually pits very similar people against each other), perhaps we can also manufacture cooperation to reduce division.
 
Jonathan Haidt (a director of CivilPolitics) conceived of the idea of The Asteroids Club with this in mind and the idea is currently being incubated by To The Village Square, a non-profit dedicated to improving political dialogue.  Below is an excerpt from an op-ed by Haidt in The Tallahassee Democrat:

Partisanship is not a bad thing. We need multiple teams developing multiple competing visions for the voters to choose among. But when our political system loses the ability for national interest to come before party interest, we’ve crossed over into hyper-partisanship. And that’s a very bad thing, because it paralyzes us in the face of so many impending threats.

What can we do about this? How can we free ourselves and our leaders from hyper-partisanship, and return to plain old partisanship? By joining the Asteroids Club! It’s a club for all Americans who are willing to grant that the other side sees some real threats more acutely than their own side does. It’s a concept developed with Tallahassee’s Village Square, which is hosting a series of Asteroids Club Dinner at the Square programs this year.

Asteroids Clubs would never hold debates. Debates often increase polarization. Rather, a local Asteroids Club would hold telescope parties in which members help each other to see approaching asteroids — one from each side — that they hadn’t really noticed before. Telescope parties would harness the awesome power of reciprocity. If we acknowledge your asteroid, will you acknowledge ours?

So come on, people! Dozens of asteroids are closer to impact than they were yesterday. Don’t wait for Washington to fix itself. Let’s just start working together, and if we can do it, it will be easier for Washington to follow our example. The alternative is for us to follow theirs.

If you are in the Tallahassee area, consider joining the event on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 from 5:30 to 7:30pm (more info at www.tothevillagesquare.org).  At Civil Politics, we plan to both support the work of such groups, by giving them access to academic research and to support the work of academics, by giving them access to the findings generated by such real-world events.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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Our goal is to educate the public about social science research on improving inter-group relations across moral divides.