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Pew says politics divides us more than race, religion, ethnicity

Dan Balz writes in yesterday’s Washington Post about a Pew Research Center survey showing that America is more divided now by political identity than by another other measure.

“Republicans and Democrats have long seen the world through different lenses. On some issues, the gaps between them are relatively small (the importance of political engagement, for example). On others they are wider. What Pew found is that in almost every measure, those gaps have increased over the past 25 years, and in some cases now seem to represent almost unbridgeable divisions.”

Read the article online HERE.

(It might not surprise you that we think this is another confirmation of why The Village Square is the correct model to address this challenge. In communities, where we are neighbors, seems like just about the only toehold.)

A little role modeling.

In Flanders Fields, for those who served

Mark Goodkin: We Need Symphonic Solutions

Up to now, the story of how liberals and conservatives engage in political discourse and problem solving has been marked by polarization, with questionable outcomes. Each side pushes its own agenda, thinking it has the answers to all the problems.

The question is whether this story has served us well? We face mounting problems, including the debt crisis, unemployment, environmental issues, energy dependency, food and water shortages, terrorism, war, and many others, which some have said will eventually lead to a perfect storm, if it hasn’t happened already. It becomes ever more doubtful that we can solve these problems within the context of our polarized, divisive mindset, which has lead to much of the present paralysis in Washington and has perhaps contributed to the problems.

The Energy Debate

Take for example the issue of energy. Both sides agree that we need to become energy independent. However, each side pushes for its own agenda, while disagreeing on an effective, long-range strategy to become energy independent.

In the energy debate, the main dividing line has been between the liberal concern for the environment and conservative concern for the economy.

Liberals want us to be weaned off of our dependency for petroleum, nuclear, coal, and other energy sources that pollute the environment and are limited in supply, to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources that support the environment, like solar, wind, and geothermal. They would like to see such a shift to cleaner energy sources done within a relatively short time frame.

They push for an increase in government funding and programs, which will support this endeavor, and are willing to tolerate higher energy prices and perhaps even some rationing as temporary measures during the transition.

On the other hand, conservatives want to exploit the conventional energy sources that already exist in our country. They feel that we can make a transition to energy independence much quicker if we invest in conventional energy, since it is already proven and economical. They argue that this approach will minimize the risk toward higher energy prices and rationing.

Conservatives believe that, perhaps some investment in alternative energy mightbe a good idea, but it will take years to develop it into a reliable and economical source to meet our growing energy needs. In fact, they argue, alternative energy will most likely never completely replace conventional sources, but supplement it.

Each side pushes forth its own agenda, without giving much thought to the other side’s merits or concerns. And if both sides did decide to work together, we learn from history that the likely outcome would be a middle of the road compromise, which lacked the necessary punch, while pleasing no one, except perhaps the special interests.

In fact, the debate on energy independence has been going on in one form or another, since at least the energy crisis of 1973. The ongoing debate reflects the story, previously mentioned, as to how each side pushes for its own agenda, without giving much, if any, consideration toward that of the other side. And in the end, with few exceptions, our problems never really get solved, but linger or incarnate into “new” problems. It’s apparent that this story has not served us well and is no match for the mounting issues we face.

What if we could change our story, the way in which we solve problems, from one of polarization and divisiveness to one of collaboration and synergy? In fact, is that possible? I believe it is.

Symphonic Solutions

I would like to introduce the idea of the Symphonic Solution. A Symphonic Solution is a meeting of the minds between liberals and conservatives on a particular issue. However, it does not limit its choices to the middle range of the political spectrum, as seen in middle of the road compromises, but is open to ideas across the entire board.

A musical symphony, or almost any melody for that matter, would be pretty blasé if its notes were limited to the middle range of the scale. A good symphony requires notes carefully taken along the entire musical scale.

A Symphonic Solution could be characterized as an effective plan, which takes into account the main values and concerns of both sides.

When both sides work together constructively for solutions and feel that their voices have been heard and accounted for, they will likely come up with more options, including innovative ones. Both sides also will more likely support the plan in the long run.

The old band-aid measures and watered down compromises that passed for solutions will give way to fresh, creative approaches, which result from a synergy of both sides working together.

It doesn’t mean there will be total agreement on every point. There will still be disagreements, which is natural in our diverse society.

So, returning to our example of the energy issue, how might the two sides work toward a Symphonic Solution for energy independence?

Such a solution would need to address the main values and concerns of both sides. It would have to take into account the liberal values and concerns for clean, renewable energy, which would have low impact on the environment, like pollution. The solution would also have to account for the conservative values and concerns for reliable energy sources, which are both cost effective and affordable.

Coming up with a Symphonic Solution for energy independence, or for that matter, any issue, will require innovative ideas, creativity, and a spirit of working together, and good will. We have a choice. We can continue with the current story of political polarization, paralysis, and ineffective solutions. Or we can change our story to collaboration, synergy, and effective solutions, which have a much better chance of meeting the challenges of mounting problems. The choice will take courage and require a shift in our thinking in how we work together to solve problems.


Mark Goodkin is publisher of Conversational Shift, a website devoted to helping people make the shift from polarized political discourse to one of civil discourse and synergistic solutions. He also publishes San Diego Coast Life, an online guide for locals and visitors to San Diego. He has been a website designer and content developer since 1998 and graphic artist since 1994. In the late 1980s, he worked as a publishing assistant for the Committee for a Free Afghanistan, in Washington DC. and assistant to the Senior Advisor to High Frontier, Inc., in Arlington VA. Mark Goodkin holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication Design from the School of Visual Arts in Saint Paul, MN and in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego.

Village Square Expands to St. Petersburg, Florida

May 21, 2012

St. Petersburg College launches bipartisan non-profit founded by Tallahassee leaders

(TALLAHASSEE, FL) – May 21, 2012 – Tomorrow night, The Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College becomes the first spinoff of Tallahassee-based nonprofit The Village Square as it hosts former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham.

The Village Square, founded by a group of Tallahassee leaders who enjoyed friendships despite their divergent political views, is dedicated to growing constructive, civil dialogue on matters of local, state and national importance. In its 6 years, the organization has hosted thousands of residents at over 50 programs on topics that range from Florida constitutional amendments to energy to the challenging intersection of faith and politics. The Village Square was the recipient of the highly nationally competitive Knight Community Information Challenge grant in 2009 awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to grow informed and engaged communities.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with St. Petersburg College as we grow beyond Tallahassee,” said The Village Square Board Co-chair, County Commissioner Bryan Desloge. “The College’s unique reach into their community is a great match for the neighborly spirit that has contributed to our success in Tallahassee.”

David Klement is the Executive Director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions. He reflects on the launch, in planning for over a year: “I am honored to have the Institute chosen to be the first ‘clone’ of The Village Square Tallahassee. It is a powerful concept for raising the level of public discourse, and we are excited at the prospect of sharing it with the Pinellas County community. The success of The Village Square Tallahassee is proof that people really do want to have meaningful conversations about the pressing issues of the day in a non-partisan, non-hostile atmosphere.”

Governor Graham was chosen to kick off The Village Square in St. Petersburg because he epitomizes its spirit. He is regarded as one of the nation’s senior statesmen, respected on both sides of the political aisle for his collaborative leadership style and for his 38-year career of public service. He will speak Tuesday night on the topic of “Restoring Civics Education and Renewing Our Democracy.”

For more information about the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, go online to www.spcollege.edu/solutions or call (727) 394-6933. For more information on The Village Square, go to www.tothevillagesquare.org, or call (850) 264-8785.


The Grand Rapids LipDub

To understand this video, you need to know that Grand Rapids, Michigan was named by Newsweek as one of ten dying cities in America. Grand Rapids didn’t take kindly to that news and decided to make this video, which broke the world record for the longest continuous video shot, incorporating the number of people it did. Watch it to the end, it’s riveting. Some of the featured “singers” are local leaders and VIPS. Got this from Peter Kageyama who is the author of For the Love of Cities which you must read. Now.

Mark Goodkin of “Conversational Shift”: Why It’s a Bad Idea for Liberals or Conservatives to Monopolize Power

(Find Conversational Shift online HERE.) Liberals and conservatives would each like to control the three branches of the federal government, and if they could, state and local governments. However, such political domination would be unhealthy for the political process and our nation as a whole.

We know that it was a bad idea when kings ruled with absolute authority; it’s a bad idea for one company to monopolize an industry. So, why then, do so many people think that it is a good idea for their political persuasion to control the decision making process of this country? (more…)

It’s our job. We’d better roll up our sleeves and get at it.

“[Olympia Snowe] has graced Congress since 1978 with the kind of balance and fortitude necessary to make compromise happen and we’re going to miss her. The challenge is going to be that I’m not sure it’s an inside job anymore, it’s got to be done by the American people.” — Peter D. Kiernan, author of Becoming China’s Bitch

Giving new meaning to the old adage “the elephant in the room”

Six years ago a group of liberal and conservative Tallahassee leaders – who somehow enjoyed enduring across-the-aisle friendships despite enduring political disagreement – started an audacious civic experiment. They were frustrated by the divisiveness of the political dialogue nationally and its increasingly negative impact on local decision-making. And they were nervy enough to think they could fix it.

“The experiment” is now called The Village Square, named after Albert Einstein’s reflection on America’s first nuclear energy debate: “To the village square, we must carry the facts… from there must come America’s voice.”

In the good company of Mr. Einstein, we were doing some Grade A wishful thinking when we decided to elevate facts as central to our mission. Facts, after all (and especially in the internet age), are ripe for motivated cherry picking and human beings are nothing if not motivated cherry pickers.

Using the central metaphor in Civil Politics’ founder Jonathan Haidt’s forthcoming The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, with a founding charter on facts, The Village Square had decided to talk to “riders” on their “elephants.”

Jon writes:

“The mind is divided like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant… The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.”

An encyclopedic volume of facts can drive any particular complex issue – hard for mere mortals (with children, bosses and a mortgage) to absorb. So instead, people make decisions intuitively (and based on others around them), then settle on a set of “facts” that support the decision they’ve already made. “The Righteous Mind” offers overwhelming scientific support for the driving force of “post-hoc” rationalization in our mental processes.

I now suspect our original conservative and liberal friends were unconsciously deluding ourselves that The Village Square would convince our wayward friends on the opposite side of the aisle of the ultimate correctness of our own political views. That didn’t happen.

Instead, in the process of rolling up our sleeves together in common work, we had accidentally put ourselves in the company of a very different group of elephants than our usual herd. That is what has changed everything – including (ironically) allowing us to be naturally affected by a broader range of facts.

Now when our “elephants” lean in the direction our minds choose instinctively – we choose a different direction than we might have without these new and unique relationships. Using Jon Haidt’s construct, in the process of aiming our efforts at what doesn’t work – talking to the rider – The Village Square stumbled on what does work: We changed the path of the elephant.

Jon on Bill Moyers earlier this month:

“…If you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason… wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other.”

Do we still talk to riders? Sure we do. Riders matter, as servants of the elephant. Riders need good ideas to talk to other people, and try to influence them. But the ingredient essential to our success has always been that we speak to elephants.

More soon on how you get 4 ton pachyderms into a room…

(Photo credit: Cody Simms)

Dr. Jonathan Haidt on Bill Moyers

Were there such a thing as Village Square homework (and there should be), this would be it. Conservatives, be sure to hang in for the whole the discussion; Dr. Haidt’s work is extremely validating of a conservative world view (and in a way that will help liberals understand you better, how much better does it get than that…) We believe Dr. Haidt is doing some of the most important work of our time. So get a bowl of popcorn and set aside 45 minutes. You won’t be sorry.

Liz Joyner: Reviving the town hall meeting

Published in the Tallahassee Democrat, February 15, 2012 There’s nothing more quintessentially American than a town hall meeting. It’s how the business of American community has gotten done from just about the moment the first disaffected European foot hit ground in the New World.

Even if you’ve never attended one, the town meeting is buried so deep in our country’s psyche that you can probably immediately call up its intimate details – rows of folding chairs, town council up front with only a school lunch table to define their status, a charmless but functional meeting room. Someone probably saw to it that there would be coffee and cookies. Overachievers might organize a potluck. (more…)

Maira Kalman: So Moved

This unique New York Times blog by Maira Kalman makes me tear up a bit every time I re-read it. America is such a Big Idea. And our country’s greatness really is fundamentally located in our communities, with our humble town hall or wherever it is we manage to make civic connections to our neighbors.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R, Arizona) performs one the most outstanding acts of human decency I’ve seen in politics in my lifetime

I looked and looked for a video of these touching moments to share with you if you didn’t catch Tuesday night’s State of the Union, but I couldn’t find one. So I’m sharing this video as an introduction. You can see Congressman Flake at Giffords’ left in the first half of the video below.

Last year’s State of the Union found Arizona Republican Representative Jeff Flake sitting next to Representative Gabby Gifford’s empty seat as she struggled for her life in the aftermath of the shooting. So this year he reports being delighted to be able to – as NoLabels.org advocated for – sit in a bipartisan fashion next to his colleague. Throughout the speech, Rep. Giffords stood up with her Democratic party at the appropriate Democratic applause lines.

And each time she did, it was Representative Flake who both helped her to her feet and helped her sit back down again. He was, many times that night, the only Republican in the chamber standing.

“She knew when she wanted to stand up,” Flake told Yahoo News. “And I stood when she stood.”