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what the media says

Don’t shoot! Just talk. How to debate politics politely in your living room.


nervous about your muslim neighbors? then invite them over for dinner

by Kelsey Dalles, reprinted from desert news

MILLCREEK — Moments before an interfaith gathering between Mormons and Muslims was slated to begin on the evening of June 4, volunteers were still setting up tables in a warm, noisy gymnasium, spurred into action by a crowd that was more than twice as big as expected.

Kristen Hodges, the event's co-host, was nervous but thrilled, ready to take part in an event she'd spent months planning.

Dozens of people attend the "Meet the Muslims" event at the Utah Islamic Center in Salt Lake City, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. After the prayer, a brief presentation on Islam was given, followed by a question-and-answer session hosted by a panel of Muslims, including Imam Shuaib Din, center. | Tanner Siegworth, Deseret News

"Since the election, I've been trying to work on projects that build community instead of tearing it down," she said.

Thirty minutes later, the tables were filled with people: Mormon parents making sure their young children didn't eat too many chocolate-covered strawberries and Muslim women in brightly colored headscarves. Members of both religions had fasted that day — members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fast one Sunday a month and Muslims refrain from eating and drinking while the sun is up each day of Ramadan, a holy month that spans from sunset on May 26 to sunset on June 24 this year.

This meal that broke the fasts, called an iftar, was meant to spark new connections between the two faith groups. Hodges recruited Mormon friends and fellow ward members to attend, while her co-host, Amina Dinki, spread the word in the Muslim community.

"She brought up the idea, and I wanted to help," Dinki said. "I wanted to bring the Muslim side so we could all come together."

Interfaith iftars are relatively common during Ramadan, as Muslims embrace opportunities to meet with people who are curious or concerned about their religion. Research has shown that even a brief interaction between members of different faiths can improve the way members feel about each other.

For example, two-thirds of U.S. adults who at least occasionally had a conversation with a Muslim over the last year said that Muslims are an important part of the American religious community, compared to 45 percent of adults who never interacted with a member of this faith group, according to a recent survey from Public Religion Research Institute.



Public Religion Research Institute | Aaron Thorup, Public Religion Research Institute



"All we really need is a brief conversation with someone — for them to listen and hear what we have to say about our religion, how we practice our faith and understand it, how we live day to day — for them to get that we're not the hostiles they see on television," said Maha Elgenaidi, founder and executive director of the Islamic Networks Group in San Jose, California.

Elgenaidi's organization launched a "Know Your Neighbor" campaign this summer in response to this conclusion, encouraging Muslims and other people of faith to strengthen their community by sharing their stories. The national campaign is part of a growing number of events aimed at increasing face-to-face interactions between potential enemies, many of which are anchored by a shared meal.

"We're seeing a trend toward people wanting to do community again," said the Rev. Jennifer Bailey, one of the leaders of The People's Supper, an online organization that facilitates diverse dinner gatherings across the country.


Terry McLaughlin: Living Room Conversations offer respectful discourse

by Terri McLaughlin. reposted from The Union.

With the explicit goal of improving the level of social discourse over public policy issues, Joan Blades of Berkeley, a political activist and former divorce mediator, devised the idea of intimate small group discussions which, in 2011, evolved into "Living Room Conversations."

In 2013, she invited Mark Meckler, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, to a conversation in her home. The two diverse personalities found common ground on the need for criminal justice reform, which led to impactful collaborative action, and the concept of Living Room Conversations took off.

That successful collaboration occurred before Bernie Sanders became the standard bearer for the progressive movement, and Donald Trump was elected President in a contentious and nasty election. Today, merely showing up to a discussion or stating an opinion or point of view in the public arena can seem hazardous, as we appear to be arguing about every aspect of our government and culture. Rather than attempting to change minds, the theory behind Living Room Conversations was that if folks with multiple perspectives could create a vehicle for a respectful, courteous, and meaningful exchange of ideas, then more positive relationships could develop and perhaps some common ground could be found.

It is perfectly natural to be drawn to the familiarity and comfort of being with those with whom we share a similar outlook. But don't we all have family or friends we hold dear, but with whom we disagree on almost everything? In today's world of faceless social media, email, posts and tweets, could we possibly expand the tolerance and suspension of judgment we afford our family by meeting others with whom we disagree face to face?


Bridging the divide one living room at a time

by Sally Stephens, reposted from The SF Examiner.

We are a deeply divided country. And yet, to solve the serious problems we face, we have to find some way to work together.

I went to a neighbor’s house last week to see one of the latest attempts to bridge the political divide. Two people with opposing political views had each invited two friends to gather in the living room to discuss a topic — in this case, the status of the American Dream.

It wasn’t a debate. It wasn’t one side trying to convince the other they’re right. The focus was to listen, without judging, to what each person said. In this way, the hope was, participants could get past political rhetoric and find some common ground. And to a large degree, it worked.

The evening was part of “Living Room Conversations,” a fledgling group that hopes to foster communication across the red-blue political divide. The group provides sample topics and questions to guide the discussions, along with ground rules to help ensure the conversation remains cordial and productive. But putting the group together and choosing the topic falls on each evening’s organizers.

Three women and three men joined in the conversation at my neighbor’s house. All were white and of similar economic class. All were Baby Boomers. Although split between Democrats and Republicans, they actually had a lot in common, and that may be why they seemed to find common ground relatively easily.

Nearly everyone admitted that the current political climate had affected their discussions and relationships with family and friends. They agreed that the divisiveness and unkindness in today’s politics were almost physically painful. And they agreed that most people don’t want to acknowledge that the other side may have a point.

Surprisingly, nearly everyone agreed a major problem facing the country is that many of our institutions no longer adequately fulfill the missions they were created to address. Each political side has institutions that it champions, and that support keeps each side from acknowledging problems with those same institutions.


Talk about it: Movement works to bridge political divisions through dialogue

BY KARINA IOFEE, reposted from East Bay Times.


BERKELEY — What do you get when you put a libertarian from Kentucky, a Trump supporter from Louisiana, a UC Berkeley student and the founder of a liberal political movement in the same room?

A discussion about some of the most pressing issues facing the country that teaches Bay Area liberals a few things about the way conservatives see the world and vice versa.

It’s no joke.

Living Room Conversations, created by a Berkeley mediator and founder of liberal political organizing group MoveOn.org, is a fledgling movement to tackle the national political rift brought to the forefront by last year’s presidential election. Like any war, it has led to family feuds, arguments with longtime friends or simply isolation from anyone with differing viewpoints.


Let's talk: the art of understanding and repairing our differences

By Robin Stern. Reprinted from The Hill.

© Getty Images

In the wake of the presidential election, feelings are running high in America, with half of the electorate rejoicing and the other half panicking. The divide we felt in the nation in the run-up to the election now seems more intense than ever. How can we understand our differences? How can we begin to repair them? 

In the world of emotional intelligence, we close the gaps in our understanding of people “on the other side” by first being aware of our own feelings and stories, and then getting curious about the feelings and stories on the other side of the conversation. This is not easy.

A conversation that includes opposing viewpoints can feel like looking at the classic vase-or-face picture. We alternate between seeing one or the other. But to see the entire picture — or hold an integrated conversation — requires that all parts be viewed simultaneously. 

This can be hard. When we teach emotional intelligence, we first teach people how to recognize and regulate their own feelings. Sometimes that involves taking a pause between feeling triggered and responding.


Election letter from the bishop of el camino real

By Mary Gray-Reeves. Reprinted from Episcopal News Service.

We are the Solution: Election Day and Reconciliation

Dear Friends,
Besides our diocesan convention which begins tomorrow, our nation is very much on my mind. I know it is on your mind too. I know there is significant distress among us as we watch the news, listen to debates, and worry about the economy, international relations, our kids, our future, our world.

These are not irrational concerns or worries. They are legitimate and arise out of a sense of violation to our values as a nation as well as out of our personal political perspectives. Indeed, I find myself more troubled not by differences of political opinion, but that we seem unable – and even unwilling – to find a way through those differences. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. Worldviews are colliding.  This is not a battle with a quantified battlefield. It is in the air we breathe. We cannot distance ourselves from it; “It” is us.

I do not need to tell you to pray or to vote. I believe you know these things and are living them to the best of your ability. I do believe I need to remind us all that democracy “only works if we work it.”


Arlie hochschild: looking for answers from berkeley to the bayou

By Daphne White. Reprinted from Berkeleyside.


UC Berkeley Sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her living room. Photo: Daphne White

Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild — author of the best-selling book Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right — wrote her first book when she was nine years old. You could think of Colleen the Question Girl as a prequel to Strangers in their Own Land, which tries to make sense of why Trump supporters in Louisiana’s ‘cancer alley’ feel loyal to the oil companies who pollute their air and water, while despising the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Why don’t bears have horns?” “Why aren’t zebras plaid?” “Why are some houses so big and others so small?” Hochschild wrote in her first book. Even as a child — and Hochschild readily admits that Colleen was modeled after herself — she was asking difficult questions. “It was about a little girl who was trouble to the adults in her life,” she said. “She’s a little radical, and she was always trying to get her father’s attention.” Colleen starts out as a girl who asks too many questions but, eventually, she becomes the town’s question girl. “Question-asking spread all over town,” the young Hochschild wrote. “And over the years to come, questions flew out of Colleen’s dreams into a wind that blew all around the world.”


Preserving post-election harmony this holiday season

By Suzanne Potter. Reprinted from Public News Service.

Experts have tips on how to politely discuss politics, if you must, with your relatives and coworkers during the holidays. (Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile)

SANTA FE, N.M. – For many, feelings are still raw after the presidential election, which could make for some difficult conversations over the holidays. So, experts in productive conversation have a few tips to help survive the season with your relationships intact. 

Parisa Parsa, executive director of the company Essential Partners, notes that you can only control your side of the conversation. She suggests you start by asking yourself a few questions.

She asks, "Why do you want to connect? What do you hope to learn? Are you ready to be in a grounded enough place to resist angry outbursts? And are you willing to try to understand or will you feel the need to persuade or get them to concede, on points of disagreement?"


Utah citizen summit explores ways to bridge state, nation after divisive election season

By Marjorie Cortez. Reprinted from KSL.

SALT LAKE CITY — In what was part group therapy and part community conversation, participants in the Utah Citizen Summit spent a full day talking and listening Saturday about the best way to move forward after the divisive election season.

While many of the participants were elected officials and community leaders, bridging divides and reaching out to people who feel afraid or marginalized is everyone's job, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

"We have the responsibility to comfort them and tell them, 'We're in this together. You're a citizen. You're my neighbor. You're my friend. I’m not going to be silent and let something happen to you. We're in this together,'" Gill said.

Catherine M. Stokes, a community leader and a former public health care administrator in Illinois, said Utahns and Americans need to take inventory of who they are as the nation strives to move forward.