In an increasingly divisive society—where politics seem to dominate public as well as private discourse—what would it be like to hold civil conversations in our own families and communities? And how might family foundations create space for people to come together and have these conversations?
These were big questions the panelists addressed in a session called Civil Conversations, Civic Engagement, and Participatory Democracy at the 2019 National Forum on Family Philanthropy.
At its simplest, a civil conversation is a dialogue between two people or a group that intends to build a better understanding. Participants don’t have to agree—what matters is the act of listening to other people and learning their perspective.
In that way, a civil conversation focuses on process rather than results. That means the conversation won’t necessarily reach a pat resolution or an answer. The point is to raise important questions and (hopefully) hear one another’s point of view.
What’s the best way to start a civil conversation? Simply show up as ourselves, said panelists. Now that may sound simple, but how often do we show up in this world as anything but our authentic selves? We wear our professional roles, our skin color and economic status, our concerns, our fears, our family histories. Yet if we can show up and speak our truth, messy as it is at times, we are more likely to see similarities in ourselves and others.
“The shortest distance between two humans is a story,” said Ric Estrada, board chair of the Woods Fund and president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services, one of Illinois’ largest human service agencies. “It’s when we listen and hear each other’s stories that we recognize common experiences. And on those commonalities, we can build communities.”
Read the full article about having civil conversations by Elaine Gast Fawcett at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.
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