This past week, a remarkable thing happened in the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love. Supporters of Trump, Clinton, and a handful of disappointed Bernie people came together and explored how they and the rest of the country might begin to heal our fractured electorate and move forward toward a prosperous and peaceful future. Together.
Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky and I co-facilitated a conversation many think is impossible and even potentially dangerous in this bitter, raucous, and deeply divisive election cycle.
And guess what? It was the most energizing and hopeful election conversation I have heard all year; I feel renewed and yes, certain that no matter who wins, we will not only survive, but be stronger for this chaotic time and circumstance, if… if what happened Tuesday night bubbles up throughout the country.
Even though a local transit strike prevented some from attending, almost Everyone was there : people of all ages from different ethnic groups, social classes, gender, religious, and immigration identities, America as its best, inclusive self.
We started with conversation Guidelines to which everyone agreed: listen with Respect, Curiosity. Compassion. And if you feel moved to interrupt, correct, or vent your anger and frustration on someone, first take a breath and look at a few of Parker Palmer’s Touchstones for meaningful dialogue, which we posted for all to see: No fixing, saving, advising, no setting straight. Everyone was encouraged to listen, deeply, not for what they disagreed with, but for the wisdom of the speaker, the hard-won perspective rooted in that person’s experience.
We had no idea how it would unfold. We trusted in the innate goodness of each person there.
I found myself profoundly moved by the openness and willingness of those present to explore their deepest loves and values, and then to generously acknowledge their common humanity with those they came prepared to oppose.
As the evening wore on, a calm intensity set in. Those who arrived nervous and guarded literally began to lean into their small groups, heads and hearts moving closer together as they spoke to each other of their deepest longings and fears:
- Whom they love, and what their dreams and hopes are for them
- Their most deeply held and cherished values
- The issues causing them the most concern
- What it feels like to be an American
- What needs to happen to bring the country together
- What they are grateful for
There were no rants, no insults, no contemptuous comments. Instead, there were some tears, laughter, pats on the back, hoots of surprise. These passionate hearts and souls found the inmost, truest parts of themselves, and discovered that all of us have so much more in common than what we perceive as dividing us.
When all the shouting, accusations, bluster, and blame are removed, We the People can come to see that we are One. We share the same hungers of the heart: safety, love, belonging, and we can talk to each other about what is needed for all of us to pursue our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Try this out for yourself. Using the guidelines, discuss these topics with the family, friends, co-workers and neighbors from whom you have found yourself suddenly alienated these past few months. Have a Conversation of the Heart, one rooted in your love and not your fear.
There is hope for us, my friends, because we already hold goodness within us. All of us. I am so grateful for this small group of willing ears and open hearts. The healing has begun.
Click here to read Ronnie’s story about this event. Wait for the page to fully load to see a 6 minute video of participants at the top of the page.
Sharon, fyi Philly.com is trying to add a link to this wonderful post! Also, yes, you may use the photo you took. Everyone knew their images would be captured and agreed to it, so you are good to go! I can’t wait to do this again and think we should do the exact same exercise in the next few weeks with disparate groups, because the sadness of the election will not dissipate overnight. Thanks so much for doing this with me. Wasn’t it fun???
What a great idea! We need more of these sessions.
It was indeed a wonderful experience Ronnie, and I would love to do it again.
Hi–what questions were asked? I am interested in informally replicating this. Thanks!
I am happy to share the questions; here they are, exactly as presented to those present. The conversations were highly structured. E mail me if you would like the process as well.
1.Why is it important for you to be here?
2.As Americans, we share some common values and priorities.
Whom do you care most about in your life? What is your American dream for them: what do you want for them?
3.As Americans, we share some common values and priorities.
What issue in your life causes you the most concern? Ideally, how would you like to see it resolved?
4.As Americans, we share some common values and priorities.
What is your most deeply held and cherished value? What does it look like, very practically and concretely, in your own life.
5.In your view, what is the best part of being an American? How does this make you feel?
6.What do you think needs to happen to bring the country together after this divisive political season? What can you do personally to begin the healing?
7.If the candidate you support wins, what do you suggest that he/she do in order to bring the country together? How can you help?
8.What one thing are you grateful for?
Hi Sharon, I love these questions and think they are a great basis for discourse in this divisive year. It’s time for us all to come together in civility and respect. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Kiman. I am looking forward to more of these conversations in the coming year(s).
Great idea. I agree we need many more such conversations.