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Transcend and transform

When I was part of the learning at THNK, one of my instructors was Kaz Brecher. The daughter of two rocket scientists, and herself a filmmaker and facilitator, she brings incredible intelligence and creativity to the world around her. Today online she shared about the Better Arguments project.

One of the things they’ve created is the “Principles for Better Arguments,” shared below.Five Principles of Better Arguments - from betterarguments.org

It reminds me of some of the work I’ve helped shared before, which comes from my colleague Ceri Rees, via the Justice Institute of BC. It’s a diagram showing how we can move together from disagreement into solution-finding.

Conflict resolution model from JIBC: two mountains near each other. The summit of each is labeled "position." A floating orb labeled "Issue" lies in the middle. Each mountain face itself is labeled "interests." The mountains overlap, and the area of overlap isn't labelled but is shaded differently. Below each mountain, in shared soil, or perhaps even rich and nourishing well-water, the blue area is labelled Solution.As you can see, at each mountain-top lies our positions. Our viewpoints on the issue at hand, they differ. While we can’t cross any sort of bridge to each other’s summits, we can instead descend into each other’s interests. This means asking each other questions about what is behind each other’s positions. “Tell me why you came to have that stance,” you might say. Or, “I’m curious what interests brought you to that position.”

The more you dig and mine and explore each other’s interest, which underly your position, you’ll eventually unearth some common ground. And it’s there that solutions lie. It’s there that you can begin the creative, generative work of finding ways forward.

It was also today that I came across a new project, curated by David Byrne of Talking Heads fame, called Reasons to be Cheerful.

One project, called “We Are Not Divided,” reads as follows:

“Everywhere you look, the message is the same: that we are hopelessly divided. That all over the world, our rifts are so entrenched they can never be reconciled. But that’s only half the story. In fact, there is abundant evidence that we human beings have far greater ability and desire to overcome our divisions than we realize.”

I followed the page to read an article this morning: “The Unlikely Friendship that Helped Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in Ireland.” As you read it, you will read of how an older Irish fellow refused to acknowledge the abuse he endured from a regular visitor to his house when he was a child. You’ll hear how this shaped his life. You’ll hear how it took friendship and openness to delve into this, and how his story ended up influencing a country’s choice. Please read it.

As I read it, tears leapt into my eyes. Just like yesterday. Like almost every day.

Kendra says she loves how easily I cry these days. It can happen without much notice, usually related to music or writing or art or storytelling — something will bring up an evocative, emotional sense, and I’m done. Tears.

It’s partly because I’m overcome by these tensions: so much is possible in terms of reconciliation and hope. And so much blocks us.

Tonight I made the mistake of watching the US presidential debate. I watched it on my phone, during gaps between dinner clean-up and bedtime for the kids. In some moments, the kids gathered around to watch with me. “Who is telling the truth?” they would ask. “I don’t know,” I would reply.

Kendra asked, “Are you sure you want to be watching that?”

I was hunched over, sighing, shaking my head, not doing well.

“Two more minutes?” I said.

I’m not even American, but it was sucking me in. It is rare for me to feel how I felt: shot through with surges of adrenaline and other chemical reactions, my body pulsing with stress and engagement.  What was getting me was the lack of listening, of empathy, of decorum, of civility, of health. of healing, of possibility.

All I want to say is this: we can transcend this. It’s about voting, sure, but it’s also not. We can unite as a grassroots coalition of citizens who choose a better way. We can choose love. We can choose listening. We can support each other through alternative economies. We can be human beings, transcending the limitations of our nation states and seeing each other across divides, no matter the distance.  We must.

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