Civil discourse sessions will help us effectively engage others
An important effort has begun in the Wenatchee Valley to foster a stronger sense of community and encourage civil discourse through facilitated small group conversations. A group of local pastors have collaborated to offer a five-week series of conversations around deep and probing topics, such as words that shimmer, black and universal, journalism and compassion, listening beyond life and choice and political civility.
The series of conversations will be held on five consecutives at three different times and places. At St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on King St., the dialogues will be held from 12-2 p.m. starting Wednesday, March 13. At Grace Lutheran Church on Washington St., a second series will be held from 5:30 – 7:30 starting March 13. The third series of conversations will be held at the YWCA on 1st Street from 10 til noon, beginning Friday, March 15 . Individuals can sign up for one of the three series with a rough maximum of 20 people in each series.
These dialogues are for anyone in the community and while not religiously focused, at times use literature from religious and other sources to facilitate dialogue.
Launching these conversations — Civil Discourse: From Separation to engagement — to our valley was the brainchild of Frances Twiggs, the Rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in collaboration with Cascade Unitarian Pastor Laura Shennum and intern Joel Courtney, along with Pastor James Aalgard and intern Wayne Shipman of Grace Lutheran Church.
The intent is to encourage community members to practice listening, thinking and discussing important topics in a constructive and open manner. These dialogues create a rich opportunity to learn about how other people think and about the events that have shaped their perspectives. There will be volunteer facilitators for each of the small groups.
The inundation of various types of media and instantaneous communication and the 24-hour news cycle has created an atmosphere in which many folks isolate themselves to safe conversations with people who are likely to agree with us. In the process, over time we have lost the skills and practice of conversations about difficult topics out of the worry that we’ll end up in arguments.
“It’s the concept that conversation is a co-creation rather than a competition,” Courtney said at a recent planning session for the conversations. “We don’t see enough modeling of it these days,” he added.
Thriving communities find ways to engage in challenging conversations.
Shennnum said she hears from people in her East Wenatchee congregation who don’t want to engage in difficult topics out of fear of damaging friendships or concern about their ideas being attacked. “That’s a crisis in our community,” she added.
Aalgard said he hopes these conversations are just the beginning of a broader movement in the valley, which means an ongoing effort to stimulate respectful and deep conversations so that it becomes part of our culture.
Tippett provides a beautiful platform for these conversations. If you are not familiar with her interviews, check out onbeing.org and listen to some of her podcasts and pay attention to the kinds of open questions she asks. She’s not afraid to ask probing questions and bring a sense of dignity and respect in teasing out what life experience forms the basis for how guests see the world.
This is an important community-building effort and every one of us could benefit from building our skills in this area. If you are interest in attending, you can access the registration information by clicking on featured events at the glcwen.org website.
These are wonderful opportunities for us as community members to expand our comfort zone and develop skills that can help us be better citizens.