Living Room Conversations at Citizen University Conference

In March, Citizen's University invited us to share Living Room Conversations (LRC) in a wonderfully full workshop! Debilyn and I had an hour and a half. This was our first experiment with brief LRCs- not enough time for a full conversation, but good to get the flavor and a sense of possibilities. The brief conversations were a success - participants enjoyed hearing diverse perspectives and appreciated the safety of the conversations.
Plus we have theories for how to make brief conversations better still next time.

Here is a description of the workshop-
Joan Blades leads a training and exploration of Living Room Conversations, a method for talking to – and listening to! – individuals with whom you disagree on substantive political issues. Just as a wildfire can start with a single spark, a shift in culture can start with a single conversation. A living room is the match, the conversation is the spark, and the people will become the wildfire that will forever change the landscape we call democracy. This open-source project aims to make respectful, constructive conversation the new normal. In this workshop, you’ll learn how to plan, host and participate in a Living Room Conversation, discuss solutions for potential challenges, and discover how to uncover common ground on seemingly impossible topics.

What happened:
We had an overflowing room and spilled out into the common space! There were seats for 90 at 9 tables and we probably had 20 more people standing. After a short description of the Living Room Conversation process, providing written guidelines, "Tips For Managing Off-topic, Lively, or Disruptive Situations" and conversation rounds participants, everyone self selected into LRC issue groupings-

  • Crony Capitalism
  • Privacy and Security
  • Corruption
  • Immigration
  • What it means to be American
  • Mental Health

   

We wished we could have sat in on all the conversations! Mental Health had the largest crowd - there were 5 or more mental health conversations. Not surprisingly feedback forms revealed that some conversations were more satisfying than others - differences are definitely a spicy part of LRCs and harder to ensure in a conference setting. It is not possible to use the friends with different views inviting friends part of the Living Room Conversations model in this venue. That said in almost every group there are many differences that may be informative - old/young, male/female, differing faiths, cultures, military experience, family, etc. The topic chosen can also be more or less evocative of differences and opportunities to reveal shared values.

Mark Meckler's participation was greatly appreciated as he added his perspective to several groups. Debilyn created the materials and helped facilitate the group. Thanks especially to Mark and Debilyn for their assistance and to all who participated!