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Using Free Writing to Listen to Yourself

This post was contributed by Claire Pearce, Coach and Facilitator, for #ListenFirst Friday (June 21, 2019). Find out more about Claire's work here: https://www.cpsdayoff.com/

I first discovered ‘free writing’ about five years ago when I was advised to attend a weekend course (‘Free writing’ is writing without stopping, not worrying about spelling, grammar or content, often for a set amount of time.) I wasn’t that hopeful (my sister was the writer, not me), but signed up anyway as I trusted the person who recommended it to me. Normally after a weekend workshop I would feel tired, groggy, not ready for work the following Monday.

After writing all weekend I felt alive, energised and excited. One of the main things I loved about it is that it’s not about writing something ‘good’, a ‘piece’, a ‘story’ - writing is the goal in itself. It’s a brain dump, a confessional, a playground for your pen, time off from your thinking brain.

Alot of what I wrote initially was pretty dark. Lots of backed up stuff that had had nowhere to go for many, many years. I’d at last found a tool that helped me to deal with difficulties, emotional or otherwise. Writing gave me a way to finally start listening to myself. I’m not even sure I realised that I wasn’t.

As well as absolute nonsense, creative nuggets, or nothing of note, writing can bring your ‘stuff’ to the surface. It finds a way of sneaking in to what you’re writing. When this happens to me, I write about how I’m feeling, or what’s come up, or both. Writing into the feeling has always brought me out on the other side. That’s what’s so great about writing. It’s immediate and it’s totally adaptable to any subject or situation.

After the course, I made pretty much everyone I know have a go at free writing, I couldn’t help myself. I learned and read more about it, and then started running my own workshops - free writing for fun, creativity, self reflection, writing projects, and as it turns out, for connection.

Free writing on your own is great, and just the writing itself is a really valuable experience. For me though, writing with others and sharing what you write is really what it’s all about. Hearing yourself reading your own words can be profound (even if you’re reading them out to yourself), but sharing – warts and all - really connects the reader and the listener (who is just a witness, not a critic). The reader gets heard, the listener realises it’s not just them that has a crazy whirlwind spinning around in their minds. This is why free writing is the perfect thing to try on #ListenFirst Friday.

So do yourself a favour and give free writing a go right now:

Get a pen and paper

Ideally find someone else to write with (someone who has the same good intention as you), but it’s great if you’re on your own too.

Use this prompt ‘Listening first means…’

Set the timer for five minutes and write!

Keep the pen moving - don’t think about what you’re writing.

Keep the pen moving - don't edit or worry about grammar, sense, neatness, or spelling, just move forwards and don't look back.

Keep the pen moving - if you get stuck, you can change subject, write the same word repeatedly, write about having nothing to say, anything.

When you’ve finished, have a read to yourself - judgement fee (everyone writes weird and nonsensical stuff - anything goes).

Then, if you’re with someone else, share what you’ve written. If you don’t want to read what you’ve written word for word, just talk about what came out, how it was etc. If you’re on your own, you can still read it out loud. Yes, it’s a little strange, but it might just surprise you.

If you want to carry on writing, you could pick an interesting word or sentence from what you’ve just written and start again.

Enjoy!

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Education Teaches us to Learn, Learning Comes from Listening

In the summer of 2016, on a research fellowship to study the effects of poverty on American K-12 education, I lived in three  communities—Cotulla, Texas, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, and a few neighborhoods of Cleveland, Ohio—and drove the 7180 miles between them in my mom’s blue Mazda CX-9. I knew little about each community or the issue I was researching, and I was willing to admit it. Therefore, in order to learn, I had to listen.

After two months, I had discovered a whole section of the country that was before unknown to me, and came away with fresh perspectives, insightful research, and, best of all, many new friends. If that trip can’t be the prototype of the antidote to our current critical illnesses— polarization, social isolation, and inequality of opportunity—then I don’t know what can. My research became my senior thesis and what follows are the concluding thoughts about what I found on the road. They get close to the point of what it means to #ListenFirst ...

“Many characterize ours as a nation divided, polarized to the point of dysfunctional. The nation’s new and defining -isms and characteristics reveal its flaws; protectionism suggests fear, nationalism suggests vanity and false patriotism, globalism suggests treacherousness, inequality suggests the self-interest and indulgence of the powerful, and our nation’s neglected schools suggest terminal ignorance. These seem to have become the realities of our time, the defining markers of our generation. Venture from Miami to Seattle, from Cheboygan to Corpus Christi—or, as I did, from Massachusetts to Cotulla, to Pine Ridge, to Cleveland, and back again —and this is what you will find, many say. I disagree.

I found a much different nation during my time on the road, one full of vast and resplendent landscapes and kind-hearted, hardworking, and immensely capable people. One of battered but well-bound communities, of common courtesy and curiosity. One down, at times, on hope, but ready to believe. One that laughs at jokes, says, “Good morning” to passersby, and enjoys a chat. One inclined toward righteousness and honesty. One of optimism, fairmindedness, and ideas—many, many ideas. One that cares, deeply, about our children. One that welcomes the stranger. Perhaps more than any other, this fact gleaned from the trip affirmed the endurance of the better nature of the American character.

The problem is not the -isms and trends so many bemoan, the problem is we’ve come to believe them and see them in ourselves. We’ve let an extreme, out-spoken, and delusional few define the American identity. We’ve given in to adversity and hopelessness. In the people I met, I saw hopelessness much more than I saw helplessness; but not the kind of hopelessness that doesn’t know what a good thing looks like, the kind that bubbles up again and again, only to find itself unfounded. We are not, though, on the whole, the people those -isms, characteristics, and out-spoken few portray. My repeated presence as the stranger across the country exposed this. In every community, I was welcomed graciously and treated with kindness and respect. A fearful, self-interested, and ignorant nation does not welcome the stranger. A generous and dignified nation, intent on progress, does. Let’s not forget what we seem already to know.

And it won’t work if we don’t listen to those with experience, those in the middle of it. Education teaches us to learn, and learning comes from listening. Inherent in that action is humility, curiosity, and confidence. As Thomas Jefferson suggested so many centuries ago, we will not get very far unless we are informed. Learn first, inspiration and action will follow. The answers exist. We simply need to find them; to believe in better days and to listen.”

Inspired by my experience and the example of projects like #ListenFirst, I, along with a bipartisan group of accomplished journalists, academics, clergy, military men and women, business people, activists, and friends from my trip, have started a  nonprofit. Our organization is called “Us.” It seeks to inspire friendship and collaboration between disparate groups of Americans of all generations in an effort to heal political polarization and provide fewer degrees of separation between our nation’s most distinguished people and our most neglected communities. It is our greatest hope that these times of fear and uncertainty leave us with a sobering perspective on the consequences of division in our country. And instead of falling apart, this realization might help us come together in a web of new social relations that reform the unity so essential to our great democratic experiment.

 

Happy #ListenFirst Friday!

David McCullough

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Americans Don't Need Another Civil War, We Need Marriage Counseling

Americans don’t need another civil war, we need marriage counseling

by Kristin Hansen, AllSides.com

A recent academic study found that America is now more politically polarized than at the end of the Reconstruction Era, following the Civil War [1]. An even more recent opinion piece in the Washington Post raised the alarming spectre that “[after 150 years] there is talk of violence, mayhem and, increasingly, civil war,” further asserting that “fears that once existed only in fiction or in the fevered dreams of conspiracy theorists have become a regular part of the political debate” [2].

For the sake of ratcheting down my own anxiety meter -- and hopefully yours as well -- may I propose a different lens through which to view our current schism:  America doesn’t need another civil war. What we need is marriage counseling.

Think of America like a marriage on the rocks.  You know, it's like waking up one morning, rolling over in bed, looking at the person you've been married to for decades, and suddenly being gripped by the feeling that you've become total strangers.  How could this have happened?  How did we drift so far apart?  I don’t even know you anymore!

In hindsight, as Americans, maybe we have been a bit too quick to paper over our differences in order to preserve the marriage. To honor our vows of shared citizenship.  And to demonstrate our unshakable faith in the vision -- articulated so eloquently in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution -- that we are destined to “form a more perfect union.”

Well, if we didn’t already suspect it, the 2016 election and its aftermath confronted us with the hard truth that our union is far from perfect.  With so many conflicts, grievances, and resentments now dredged up to the raw surface, America’s relationship woes can’t be downplayed or swept under the rug any more.  Maybe no one’s moving out yet, but we’re definitely sleeping in separate bedrooms.  Leave me alone. I can’t even stand to be near you. Just the sight of you makes me sick.  

Making matters worse, our politicians, media, and social media seem to take perverse pleasure in fanning the flames of our marital discontent. He’s a jerk. I never thought she was good enough for you.  You can do better.

Here’s the thing: married couples fight. And when we fight, we are almost always desperate to be right, to “win” the argument at hand.  We argue over substantive and trivial things. Sometimes, in fact, one of us is just plain right, and the other is just plain wrong. When arguments become too intractable, behaviors too unjustifiable, or feelings just too plain hurt, marriages can end.

In many ways, America can feel like a bad marriage these days.  But ending this marriage, even if we had the faintest idea how to do this, is an option that most of us aren’t prepare to consider.  So it appears we’re stuck with each other, no matter how unromantic the prospect.

And if the goal is to stay together, then trying to win every marital dispute at all cost isn’t necessarily the best long-term strategy.  Instead, as any happily married octogenarian or experienced marriage counselor can attest, staying together “til death do us part” requires a considerable amount of listening, empathizing, negotiating, compromising, and seeking shared rather than lopsided victories.  

Looking for common ground in a troubled relationship can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially when we are convinced (and our friends and family provide further validation) that we are right, that we are the injured party.  I don’t need him.  I’m better off on my own.  She never understood me anyway.    

But if, as Americans, we are not willing to do the hard work that lifelong relationships require, then we are almost certainly destined to continue drifting apart.  Towards what end, exactly?

So let’s prove the warmongers and the naysayers wrong.  Let’s avoid the temptation to feel righteous, even when we are pretty sure that we are right.  Let’s stop listening to the voices telling us that Americans’ differences are irreconcilable, and that we’re better off going our separate ways.  

Instead, let’s switch on our “inner marriage counselors” and dedicate ourselves to listening, empathizing, compromising, negotiating, seeking common ground, and ultimately strengthening the ties that bind us as Americans.  Let’s roll over, look at that stranger sleeping next to us, take a deep breath, and commit to making this challenging relationship work.

References

[1] Christopher Hare, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal, DW-NOMINATE (continuing research study)

[2] “In America, talk turns to something not spoken of for 150 years: civil war,” Greg Jaffe and Jenna Johnson, Washington Post, March 2, 2019

About the Author

Kristin (Jordahl) Hansen is Strategy and Technology Advisor at AllSides.com, AllSides4Schools, and Mismatch.org. In her words: Recently I have been inspired to engage in the growing “bridge movement” across America to remove filter bubbles, reduce polarization, bridge the partisan divide, and restore democracy. I am currently serving as a strategy and technology advisor to four interrelated organizations that have helped to shape this emerging movement, with their pioneering tools for educators, students, citizens, and civic organizations:  AllSidesAllSides for SchoolsLiving Room Conversations, and Mismatch.

 

 

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How Listening, Not Money, Changed My Neighbourhood in Zambia

How Listening, Not Money, Changed My Neighbourhood in Zambia

by Matthews Monde

In 2017, MATHEWS MONDE was named one of Zambia’s "most innovative health workers" by the country’s Ministry of Health. Here, he tells a story of how he made a name for himself, by listening.

If we’re honest, we probably all sometimes pretend to listen: our mind might wander; we might think it’s enough for a person to feel like they’ve been heard; or we might want to tick an imaginary (or real) box that says “yes, I have consulted others”.

I’m from Zambia, which (in monetary terms at least) is one of Africa’s poorer countries. And I’ve spent much of my life in the rural south – a region that tends to be ignored by government and development agencies.

Most people here lead modest, subsistence lives. And when outsiders do pay us attention, it’s normally to do something to us. Sometimes with good intent. Sometimes not. In either case, listening is a token gesture, not a serious activity. And so the community goes unheard.

But when this status quo is upturned, and when genuine listening takes place, great things happen.

And I can show you how.

I’m a Community Health Worker by training. In recent years, I’ve done this in two roles: one in Zambia’s Ministry of Health, and one in a small voluntary group in a community called Chabbaboma. This group of local people is part of a wider organisation called Arukah Network, which is geared towards unlocking community potential through local collaboration.

In both of these roles I helped on a sanitation project. But each project achieved very different results. 

At the Ministry of Health, I was tasked with distributing concrete latrine bases to various communities that did not have flush toilets. These bases are very simple: a big hole is dug in the ground, and the latrine base covers the hole. I delivered them to a central location in one community. People could then take and use them as they please. And so it was free provision, done with good intentions. But it failed. Few people wanted to use them, and so they sat and gathered dust. They were dark and uncomfortable places, but worse than that, they would sometimes collapse because the bases did not support the structure of the hole.

Some years later, our little community group began its own sanitation scheme. But this one was very different. No construction took place. No building materials were provided. And no training was given. Instead, we simply visited homes in small groups and began asking people “what do you do to stay healthy?”. And then we listened.

This led to some fascinating conversations. One family showed us a latrine they’d designed and constructed themselves. It was made of locally-sourced, renewable wood, which was fashioned into a cylindrical shape to be lowered into the ground. On top of this was placed a wooden base. It was cheap, renewable and strong. And the family offered to join us in sharing this idea with others in the community.

So this is what we did, and people loved it. There are now about one hundred and fifty of these latrines in use in the Chabbaboma area, and local health centres have since reported a decline in diarrheal disease.

The Ministry of Health project had a big budget, while this community project had none. But our community project prevailed where the government failed for one reason: we listened.

And it’s not simply that this local solution was comparable to the government one. No, it was superior: it used renewable materials, it was stronger than its concrete counterpart as it supports the shape of the hole as well, and it was also better ventilated than the dark, unpleasant structure of the concrete model.

I have since done something unusual for someone in my position: I’ve quit a comfortable government job. I did this because these and other experiences have taught me that listening is not simply a nice gesture. Rather it belongs at the core of efforts to build healthy and resilient communities. It’s taught me that if we really care about our communities, then we all must #ListenFirst.

About the Author: Mathews Monde is an award-winning health worker from rural Zambia, and a member of Arukah Network. Mathews roots his work in a process called SALT. This podcast introduces SALT, by asking the question “what if the best way to impact a community is simply to listen to its members?”. 

About Arukah Network: Our network helps to launch and nurture local groups of people who work collaboratively to serve their communities. We call these groups ‘Clusters’. In each Cluster, members work to build relationships, support one another, share in training and form partnerships. The aim is to increase the health, wellbeing and happiness of our communities, and ultimately, to inspire wider systems and social change. Or as we call it, 'Arukah'.

 As a network, we meet together locally, internationally and online, to learn and support one another as we serve our communities. We gather and share our network's expertise and wisdom, so that communities can solve complex challenges. And we amplify community voices, so their wisdom is understood and acted upon by policy makers.

Become a member of Arukah Network to learn more from people like Mathews, to share your own experiences, and to find support to create similar change in your own community

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National Week of Conversation 2019 Combats Social Polarization

National Week of Conversation 2019, Beginning Tomorrow, Encourages Americans of All Stripes to Enjoy Real Conversations Across Differences in Which All #ListenFirst to Understand

200+ Organizations in the #ListenFirst Coalition Have Joined Forces to Address the Cultural Crisis of Division and Dehumanization in America. In-person and virtual conversations will bridge divides coast to coast during National Week of Conversation 2019, April 5-13. 

National Week of Conversation is a bold annual occasion when people with diverse perspectives #ListenFirst to understand. Through in-person and virtual conversations coast to coast exploring any topic of interest, people of all stripes intentionally convene with the goal of mending our frayed social fabric and revitalizing America together. The first NWOC was in April 2018.

Individuals and organizations are invited to host or join conversations during NWOC 2019 and use the #ListenFirst hashtag to invite others and spread the message. A current map of planned in-person conversations can be found at NationalConversationProject.org.

"America is facing a cultural crisis as we no longer just disagree but dislike, distrust, and even despise those who see the world differently," says Pearce Godwin, Founder of Listen First Project and Executive Director of the overarching National Conversation Project. "We have infected ourselves with a virus of outrage and offense that's reached a pandemic level and is attacking us from within. This social polarization not only threatens our democracy but is destroying close personal relationships. A nation founded on universal ideals of freedom and opportunity has become one of sectarian strife."

"But together we can turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division. We can transform the toxicity of tribalism into positive connections through conversation. We can disagree without disconnecting," Godwin continues. "We know from surveys that 100 million Americans want to see a national campaign to address this crisis. National Conversation Project is that campaign. Thousands of people have already committed to listen first to understand. Each one of them is tipping the scales toward a stronger and more equitable future for our nation and better relationships in our daily lives. Understanding that there is a lot of anxiety and distrust preventing conversations across differences, we look forward to engaging as many Americans as possible in this #ListenFirst movement during National Week of Conversation."

A recent study by More in Common called Hidden Tribes confirms the appetite and opportunity for this mission. A substantial majority of Americans are exhausted by our polarized national conversation. This Exhausted Majority believes people "need to be willing to listen to others," that "we need to heal as a nation," and that "differences between Americans are not so big that we cannot come together." All of the tribes identified by More in Common ranked "America’s political divisions" as a high priority issue, the only one on which all tribes agreed. Yet "most Americans feel a strong sense of pride and gratitude that they are American." As More in Common suggests, our national identity -- idealistic, hopeful, and inclusive, centered on freedom and opportunity -- can be the force that unifies us to overcome this polarization.

As Americans engage in conversations across a myriad of topics -- those that matter most to them and their communities -- we also encourage everyone to consider a central question: What could a more perfect union look like?  

In addition to that primary question for the week, we'll spark conversations with the daily questions below.

  • Friday, April 5: Who would you love to have a conversation with?
  • Saturday, April 6: When have you been most proud to be an American?
  • Sunday, April 7: Where do you go to escape polarization?
  • Monday, April 8: What would make conversations more fun?
  • Tuesday, April 9: How do you disagree without disconnecting?
  • Wednesday, April 10: When did you last shift your perspective and why?
  • Thursday, April 11: What voices or perspectives are missing in your life?
  • Friday, April 12: Who is someone from the ‘other side’ you admire?
  • Saturday, April 13: When have you felt truly heard? What was that like?

What is National Conversation Project?

There is growing, even violent, division in communities across America. We’re withdrawing from conversations—eroding relationships and understanding—fraying our social fabric. 75% of Americans say this problem has reached a crisis level. Experts say the solution is to cultivate more positive social connections. Thankfully, 75% of Americans are willing to practice conversations across divides, and 36%—more than 100 million people—want to see a national campaign to that end. National Conversation Project—powered by 200+ organizations—is that campaign.

National Conversation Project seeks to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time. We promote National Weeks of Conversation, #ListenFirst Fridays, and any conversation welcoming people of all stripes to revitalize America together. NCP aggregates, aligns, and amplifies the efforts of more than 200 partners to mainstream conversations in which we #ListenFirst to understand. www.nationalconversationproject.org #ListenFirst

National Conversation Project is supported by the generous donations of Sustaining Members including Listen First Project, Common Ground Committee, ProCon.org, Living Room Conversations, AllSides, Big Tent Nation, Bridge Alliance Education Fund, Civicus, Essential Partners, Hyland Software, Issue One, Mediators Foundation, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, National Institute for Civil Discourse, National Issues Forums, Outreach Experts, Sacred Discourse, Someone To Tell It Too, Take Back Our Republic, and Urban Confessional.

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Step Back then Step Forward into National Week of Conversation!

Today, seemingly more than ever before, it is important that we, as American citizens across the country, take a step back followed by a step forward. Step back from our comfort zone and routine, step away from our smartphone screens and social media scrolling and step forward towards someone new, engaging and connecting with a genuine curiosity. This is how we grow as individuals and how we grow as an entire population. This is how we better understand the hurt we might actually be able to help heal. This is how we understand true American struggles instead of simply those we experience within invisible border walls of our own communities or those we learn about in the echo chambers of our like-minded social media connections. This is the only way we truly understand our best way forward.

This isn’t easy. So an entire movement has formed where we, hand-in-hand, walk each other into the center of everything. Republicans and Democrats. Jews and Muslims. Majority and minority. In the middle of the chaos, we enter into difficult yet rewarding conversations where we #ListenFirst to understand each other. And somewhere within that, we see behind the angry social media posts and opposing votes and comments taken out of context and realize we are human. We realize we all have stories worth open ears and struggles worth another helping hand.

Starting this week, from April 5th – 13th, this entire #ListenFirst movement is joining together during National Week of Conversation to rally the entire country to come together. Organizations and individuals across the country will be facilitating and engaging in conversations across divides with diverse perspectives challenging everyone to truly hear each other. We are also encouraging everyone and anyone to reach out to neighbors, family and friends and form your own conversations. One week. One week when it’s time to step back from routine work schedules and routine interactions. One week to step away from the excuses and the deprioritizing of your concerns about your future – our future. One week when we can step forward – towards each other, with each other and for each other. What is your excuse for standing back or standing still? Join us for National Week of Conversation and practice what it means to #ListenFirst.  

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Just Like Us: #ListenFirst Tips for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is a day with turkey, stuffing, family, and—perhaps unfortunately—politics.

What should we do when politics pops up, sometimes out of nowhere? When something like a blueberry vs. cherry pie could start a debate, or when some cousin makes a remark comparing the sweet potatoes to our president’s skin color? Of course, the answer is to Listen First! But, what does that really mean for Thanksgiving?

I’d actually start by listening to what we already know about how similar we are. Just like us, the people with those different views have wants. Just like us, they have needs. And just like us, they have personal stories, filled with sorrows and regrets, but also of joys and triumphs. Just like us.

By listening to them, we can start hearing their humanity and even their character—how just like us, they take care of their kids and their family; how they’re often a good friend; or how they contribute to their community as a volunteer, a cop, a teacher, etc. Then we can listen for what conversation could be helpful. Maybe we could do something in the community together. Maybe they are curious to learn more about how the other side thinks. Or maybe it’s just best to connect on something totally different and talk about baseball, or movies, or music, or dogs – whatever. After all, there’s a lot more to life and family than politics.

It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where pies or side dishes can escalate into political battles. But remember we're dealing with not just positions but people who in many ways are just like us. They have needs and wants and stories, and they are probably just like us in that they care for those around them. With that perspective, we can really be thankful to share a meal and time with family and friends this Thanksgiving.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! 

James Coan is a Strategic Advisor for Listen First Project

Also see: Top 10 Tips for a #ListenFirst Conversation

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What's Next U.S.? Conversation Event Brings Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others together across America to address our nation’s challenges (Press Release)

This #ListenFirstFriday—the International Day for Tolerance—National Conversation Project with its 150+ partner organizations joins civic groups around the world for global #TogetherWeSpeak campaign of conversations across divides. Domestic focus is "What's Next U.S.?" following another socially polarizing election. New conversation guides equip Americans of all stripes to richly engage.

National Conversation Project—a collaborative platform powered by 150+ partners to mainstream conversations in which all #ListenFirst to understand—is partnering with civic organizations around the world for a global #TogetherWeSpeak campaign November 16-18 around the International Day for Tolerance. Following socially polarizing midterm elections, the conversation theme in the United States is "What's Next U.S.?" encouraging Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others to come together across America to address our nation’s challenges in virtual and in-person conversations. Leading partner Living Room Conversations has created two new conversation guides for the event—What's Next U.S.? & Tolerance—and is hosting six virtual flagship conversations over this weekend.

"The tide of rising rancor and deepening division that has frayed the social fabric of the United States is not a uniquely American crisis. Personal animosity across myriad divides increasingly infects cultures around the globe," said Pearce Godwin, Executive Director of National Conversation Project and Founder of Listen First Project. "We're excited to broaden the scope of National Conversation Project this weekend as part of an international event and invite Americans of all stripes to join people around the world in taking advantage of fun, rich, and all-too-rare conversations in which we listen first to understand."

Debilyn Molineaux, Inspiration Director of National Conversation Project and Co-Founder of Living Room Conversations, adds, "Everyone in the United States has an opinion about what’s next for our country. But when we only talk with people who are like us, we become more deeply divided instead of figuring it out. The new conversation guides created by Living Room Conversations are for everyone—a way to connect across our differences and have a fun and meaningful conversation. I always learn something new—sometimes about people I’ve known for years. This event offers a little incentive to reach out, because it’s easier to do scary things when we do it all together. This weekend, let’s figure out what’s next for our country and have some fun along the way."

Describing #TogetherWeSpeak, international campaign developer CIVICUS says, "Never before has the world been so connected. And yet, as many of us look around our communities and countries, we seem increasingly divided... It's no longer enough to speak to those who already agree with us; if we want real change, we need to speak with those who don't agree with us."

Sample Questions from What's Next U.S.? & Tolerance Conversation Guides

  • What does the outcome of the midterm elections mean to you?
  • Despite partisan division, what core values do you think Americans fundamentally agree on?
  • On issues where values are aligned, what common ground solutions would you like to explore?
  • Have you had any relationships damaged by politics? How might you begin to repair them?
  • What does tolerance mean to you?
  • Is tolerance a quality you value in yourself and others? Why or why not?
  • What, if anything, causes you to be intolerant?

What is National Conversation Project & #ListenFirstFriday?

There is growing, even violent, division in communities across America. The problem is that we increasingly don't just disagree with one another. We dislike, distrust, even despise those who see the world differently. We’re withdrawing from conversations—eroding relationships and understanding—fraying our social fabric. 75% of Americans say this problem has reached a crisis level.Experts say the solution is to cultivate more positive social connections.Thankfully, 75% of Americans are willing to practice conversations across divides, and 36%—more than 100 million people—want to see a national campaign to that end. National Conversation Project—powered by 150+ organizations—is the platform for that movement.

National Conversation Project seeks to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time. We promote National Weeks of Conversation, #ListenFirst Fridays, and any conversation inviting people of all stripes to revitalize America together. NCP aggregates, aligns, and amplifies the efforts of more than 150 hosting partners to mainstream conversations in which we #ListenFirst to understand. www.nationalconversationproject.org #ListenFirst

Every Friday, National Conversation Project elevates the #ListenFirst spirit and practice, encouraging all to be extra intentional about positively connecting with folks they encounter on #ListenFirstFriday. Friday is a great day to foster new connections, share stories of conversations earlier in the week, and consider opportunities to #ListenFirst over the upcoming weekend. Please share stories, pictures, and video + #ListenFirstFriday, encouraging all of us to #ListenFirst to understand.

References

Weber Shandwick, Civility in America VII: The State of Civility

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

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Candidates Nationwide Commit to #ListenFirst to Understand; Comment on #ListenFirstFriday (Press Release)

Candidates NationwideIncluding Duetting Opponents in Vermont—Commit to #ListenFirst to Understand. Also Comment on #ListenFirstFriday.

Listen First Project Recognizes Cultural Influencers Who Join the #ListenFirst Movement as #ListenFirst Leaders. Dozens of Federal, State, and Local Candidates—Republican, Democrat, and Independent—Have Stepped Up to Help Mend the Frayed Fabric of America. 4 Days Before Election, Statements Support #ListenFirstFriday. 

As Election Day approaches, many political candidates—including two opponents for Vermont State House who recently made national headlines singing a duet—have joined the #ListenFirst movement alongside other cultural influencers by committing to “Listen First to understand,” earning recognition as #ListenFirst Leaders. While welcoming all candidates to join thousands of others in the growing #ListenFirst movement, Listen First Project and National Conversation Projectthe shared movement platformare strictly nonpartisan and do not endorse or campaign for any individual candidate or issue.

"Cultural influencers, especially those seeking elected office, have a special opportunity to lead in turning the tide of rising rancor and deepening division in America. We are experiencing a dark moment as a societypolitical opponents targeted with bombs, Americans slaughtered in a place of worship, people gunned down in a grocery store due to the color of their skin, all amidst another socially polarized election," said Pearce Godwin, Founder of Listen First Project and Executive Director of National Conversation Project.

"The words and actions of our civic and cultural leaders play a role in shaping attitudes, speech, and behavior among society at large," adds Godwin. "We appreciate those leaders who have made a commitment to engage with fellow Americans as human beings worth understanding rather than as enemies with bad intentions or threats to be destroyed. Their example inspires others to move from a corrosive mindset of 'us vs. them' toward 'me and you.' Revitalizing America and finally achieving its promise as 'indivisible, with liberty and justice for all' will require all of us, together."

#ListenFirst Leaders in final days of campaigns offer comments for #ListenFirstFriday

Zac Mayo & Lucy Rogers—candidates for Vermont State House who sang a duet following debate: Zac said, "I was honored to be recognized as a #ListenFirst Leader, along with my opponent. I believe strongly in mending the wounds of division and de-escalating the hyper-partisan culture we live in. The fire and fury of today doesn't lead to solutions, but instead breeds distrust and a further breakdown of our culture. My belief has always been that all voices need to be heard, regardless of which side of the aisle you are on." Lucy added, "I'm proud to have been recognized by the Listen First Project as a leader who pledges that 'I will listen first to understand.'"

Nick Thomas—Congressional candidate in CO-2: "People across the spectrum recognize that we're facing a cultural and political crisis. Surveys report that most of us see fewer things that bind Americans together today and have few or no friends from the other side. Experts warn of a 'soft civil war.' The current trend of vilifying people rather than honestly discussing positions is a disaster for our society and governance. I'm proud to champion and practice #ListenFirst. Listening first to understand others, especially those with whom we disagree, is the only way we move forward together and address the greatest issues of our time."

Cooper Nye—Congressional candidate in MI-11: "Make no mistake: Tribalism is unraveling the fabric of our free society. I signed the #ListenFirst pledge because America's greatness and our shared prosperity demand we listen first to understand one another and bridge divides now—not later."

Joe Pinion—Candidate for New York State Assembly: "We are the most connected society in the history of the world, and yet today we find ourselves more divided than ever before. In these times of great uncertainty and community upheaval, it is more important than ever to remain committed to the eternal moral quest for common ground and common purpose. I’m proud to stand with #ListenFirst and all those committed to the work required to help resolve our differences."

Ryan Watts—Congressional candidate in NC-6: "I’ve committed myself to listening to the people throughout the campaign. Our future is dependent on #ListenFirst Leaders willing to set aside party affiliation to truly represent the people."

Frank Ward—Candidate for Austin, TX City Council: "Many Americans are currently questioning whether we are and can still be a nation of the highest ideals. The #ListenFirst movement is a direct response to the frustration many are feeling about our frayed public discourse. It is a particularly American sensibility to endlessly pursue common ground. We can and must do just that. Listening first in our public discourse should be the standard, not the exception. Both the beautiful idea and reality of America continue to march on because we have always striven to appeal to ‘the better angels of our nature.’ There’s no time like the present to get back out there and engage with voters and neighbors of all political stripes and perspectives. Imagine what we could all learn if we simply listened first.”

Emmanuel Wilder—Candidate for North Carolina House: "Being a #ListenFirst leader is a responsibility. We have real problems in our society and if we are going to solve any of them, we are going to have to understand one another. That starts by listening, having a truly honest dialogue about where we are, how did we get here, and where we want to go. By encouraging others to listen first, we can bring a generational change to our society."

Karen McCormick—Congressional candidate in CO-4: "I'm running to restore government that's of, by, and for the people again. That requires listening first to the people—showing up to gain greater understanding of the issues we face. That's why it's always been my priority to build a close relationship with the people of our district."

Jamie Schoolcraft—Congressional candidate in MO-7: "A true representative should be the voice of the people, which requires listening first to them."

Former Presidents Bush and Obama have also spoken to the problem and solution. President George W. Bush has decried, “discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” observing that “argument turns too easily to animosity; disagreement escalates into dehumanization.” In opening his Foundation Summit, President Barack Obama said, “Why don't we practice what we preach and listen first.”

Other cultural influencers championing #ListenFirst include former party chairs (Donna Brazile & Michael Steele), journalists (Bret Baier), athletes (Dominique Wilkins), business leaders (Stephen M.R. Covey), activists (Susan Bro & Christian Picciolini), musicians (Peter Yarrow), mayors (Robyn Tannehill), superintendents (Dr. Catherine Edmonds), doctors (Dr. Brian Williams & Dr. Mark Goulston), and religious leaders (F. Willis Johnson & Cissie Graham Lynch).

What is National Conversation Project & #ListenFirstFriday?

There is growing, even violent, division in communities across America. The problem is that we increasingly don't just disagree with one another. We dislike, distrust, even despise those who see the world differently. We’re withdrawing from conversations—eroding relationships and understanding—fraying our social fabric. 75% of Americans say this problem has reached a crisis level. Experts say the solution is to cultivate more positive social connections. Thankfully, 75% of Americans are willing to practice conversations across divides, and 36%—more than 100 million people—want to see a national campaign to that end. National Conversation Project—powered by 150+ organizations—is the platform for that movement.

National Conversation Project seeks to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time. We promote National Weeks of Conversation, #ListenFirst Fridays, and any conversation inviting people of all stripes to revitalize America together. NCP aggregates, aligns, and amplifies the efforts of more than 150 hosting partners to mainstream conversations in which we #ListenFirst to understand. www.nationalconversationproject.org #ListenFirst

Every Friday, National Conversation Project elevates the #ListenFirst spirit and practice, encouraging all to be extra intentional about positively connecting with folks they encounter on #ListenFirstFriday. Friday is a great day to foster new connections, share stories of conversations earlier in the week, and consider opportunities to #ListenFirst over the upcoming weekend. Please share thoughts, pictures, and video using #ListenFirstFriday, encouraging all of us to #ListenFirst to understand.

References

Weber Shandwick, Civility in America VII: The State of Civility

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

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Pre-Election Conversations Help Mend Frayed Social Fabric (Press Release)

In Final Week Before Election Day, New Conversations for Americans of All Stripes Help Mend Frayed Social Fabric

Part of Growing #ListenFirst Movement Driven by 150+ Organizations, New Pre-Election Conversations Focus on Matching Personal Values to Votes and Keeping Family and Friends Above Politics.

Following a week in which political opponents were targeted with bombs and Americans were slaughtered in a place of worship, organizations coast to coast have joined forces on a new National Conversation Project to turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division that 75% of Americans say has reached a crisis level.

One of the leading organizations behind National Conversation Project, Living Room Conversations, has created powerful and timely conversations for the days leading up to next week’s Midterm Elections. The two new conversation guides—Before the Election & Relationships over Politics: Connecting with Friends and Family—are designed to cut through the shrill cacophony playing on our fears and instead help us reflect with others on how our votes can best match our personal values and hopes for the future, as well as how family and friends can successfully navigate the tension of our differences and repair any relationships severed by politics.

75% of Americans say the way we interact with each other across differences has reached a crisis level, and more than 100 million people want to see a national campaign to fix it. The new, collaborative National Conversation Project—encouraging all of us to #ListenFirst to understand—is fueling that movement,” said Pearce Godwin, Executive Director of National Conversation Project and Founder of Listen First Project. “At a moment in American history when heinous violence and another socially polarized election threaten to push us to new lows, there is hope that we can turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division by starting new conversations that bridge divides—move from 'us vs. them' toward 'me and you.' I’m thankful that change-makers such as Living Room Conversations are stepping up in this moment to create the positive social connections that we desperately need.”

Joan Blades, Co-Founder of Living Room Conversations and Moveon.org adds, “The media and politicians are too often rewarded for focusing on our differences. Citizens stepping up to restore connections locally and nationally and refocus us on our shared hopes and dreams are our best hope of creating the kind of future we all want. And, what is really wonderful is how fun and rewarding these conversations are!”

The pre-election conversation guides include questions such as:

  • What is motivating you to vote this year?
  • What or who are you casting your vote to promote? To protect?
  • What do you fear as a result of the election?
  • What do you hope for as a result of the election?
  • What are your early memories of talking politics with family or friends? What things went well?  Was there anything difficult?
  • How could you prepare yourself to listen with genuine curiosity to your family and friends?   
  • When does love supersede politics (and when does it perhaps not)?

What is National Conversation Project?

There is growing, even violent, division in communities across America. The problem is that we increasingly don't just disagree with one another. We dislike, distrust, even despise those who see the world differently. We’re withdrawing from conversations—eroding relationships and understanding—fraying our social fabric. 75% of Americans say this problem has reached a crisis level. Experts say the solution is to cultivate more positive social connections. Thankfully, 75% of Americans are willing to practice conversations across divides, and 36%—more than 100 million people—want to see a national campaign to that end. National Conversation Project—powered by 150+ organizations—is the platform for that movement.

National Conversation Project seeks to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time. We promote National Weeks of Conversation, #ListenFirst Fridays, and any conversation inviting people of all stripes to revitalize America together. NCP aggregates, aligns, and amplifies the efforts of more than 150 hosting partners to mainstream conversations in which we #ListenFirst to understand. www.nationalconversationproject.org #ListenFirst

References

Weber Shandwick, Civility in America VII: The State of Civility

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

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