Five Takeaways from our Living Room Conversations Survey

Thanks to those who participated in our survey last month - exploring your interests, hopes and suggestions for the new year!  We wanted to share five standout themes from the results below.  

1. We’re not the only ones concerned at what’s happening in our country’s current ability to connect across difference:   

  • I think people's inability to talk about differences is destroying families, decency, and democracy.
  • People sometimes converse more with those who already agree with them than with those who disagree...I was trying to find ways to counteract this.
  • The ability to have civil discussions with those I don't agree with is a rare occurrence these days. 

2. Many of you are also intrigued and curious about finding new ways to really hear each other out across those differences:

  • I want very much to hear the opinions of those who see the world differently.
  • I was drawn to your work because it seeks to...break us from the habit of living only within our own moral matrix with people who share all of our values, ideas, etc. Where is the true growth in that?
  • I’ve wanted to find a forum to discuss controversial issues in an environment that promotes greater understanding.

 3. We are coming from unique places in our interest in better conversation - with diverse needs and concerns :

  • I am the missions elder at University Presbyterian Church and I thought this might offer an opportunity for our members to grapple with contemporary issues.
  • I am interested in creating a dialogue within our synagogue about Israel and the occupied territories. 

Some of you, for instance, asked questions about how to bring better conversation to your immediate life situation and relationships: “Are there any simple practices people could employ before, during and after conversing? Reminders on how to listen, how to stay centered & focused, how to follow up with kindness and respect…”

There are also LOTS of varied interests we have in conversations to explore - everything from religion, spirituality and "the letter and intent of the United States Constitution" to the "role of the United States in the world" and "Middle East Policy."  Here are some additional ones:

  • World relations:  refugee resettlement / refugee crisis/ refugees, immigration, Anti-Muslim sentiment and /ISIS; civil rights in light of terrorism/the trade-offs between civil liberties and security, given the current concern about terrorism/ responding to crime, mass murder, international terrorism, etc.
  • Economic issues:  tax reform, socialism and programs we call socialist, income inequality, crony capitalism/ manipulation of different parts of society by powerful monied interests, how to create a healthy financial sector, future of jobs given likely roll out in automation. collective bargaining rights.
  • Health matters: the way factory farms treat animals, the healthiest vegan diet, vaccinations, death and dying
  • Family issues: abortion, early childhood, family friendly economy/women's issues, esp domestic violence, housing
  • World health:  climate change, the environment
  • Justice and equity: criminal justice/prison reform, racial justice/education reform

4. There are lots of things in the complexities of real life that can be barriers to face-to-face conversation (challenges that may be acknowledged as a part of this work):

  • Time is my biggest constraint, but I am trying to find time to host one.
  • Since I live alone, I am not willing to open my home to people I don't know….I am more comfortable in public spaces.
  • Honestly, I have two dogs, five cats, and lots of fur in my house. Sometimes it's just too hard to get the house into shape for visitors.

One person acknowledged a fear about trying a conversation like this:  “I have a lot of trepidation, as I have been through a very difficult time in town since I started voicing my opinions. So I lack courage, I guess."

Others spoke of limited connections with those from different perspectives:

  • I think I'd like to do it in San Diego where I can find stronger differences of opinion than I can here in Georgia.
  • I have not been able to find a conservative person to create the combination necessary
  • I did not know those from the right wing who would want to participate.

5. Some confusions exist about the scope and purpose of Living Room Conversations. To clarify a few points, thoughtful conversation like we're proposing doesn't necessarily need to span vast difference or focus on "issues that are in the spotlight, that are partisan" as one of you commented.  Nor do we believe they should be limited "to people with a certain education level." Our hope is that Living Room Conversations can be a setting for all kinds of conversations (including those not in the spotlight) and between all kinds of people (including folks of various educational levels).

This doesn't deny that meaningful demographic differences can and do influence our ability to be engaged in this kind of work (since the time to sit in conversation for an evening can be seen as quite a privilege). But it is to insist that everyone in America - regardless of demographics and background - deserves a place at the table to explore questions facing society. That is our belief.

One last clarification:  Living Room Conversations are something people can do on their own time and in own way, with no need to wait for us to "expand to your location." You can adapt this according to your circumstance any time you'd like.

Bottom line:  If you have a desire to do this, then YOU are the expansion!  And if that's your interest, we're here to help!

Thank you to those who participated in the survey!  We're excited to see what 2016 brings.