Something happened last night in the Fellowship Hall of Kingwood Christian Church that most might claim was improbable, if not impossible. Despite our polarized political landscape, ten highly engaged Republican leaders and ten passionate Democratic leaders from our community gathered for a dialogue seeking a “fix” for our broken political system. Sound like a recipe for disaster? Perhaps so, or could gathering the seemingly entrenched sides for respectful conversations be the key to breaking our political gridlock.
Dr. Jay Theis, the Director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Lone Star College in Kingwood, believes that the way forward will require gathering for difficult conversations that foster cooperation. Theis believes that the significant issues that divide our country cannot be understood or resolved in two minute sound bites, but in respectful gatherings of people with diverse views. For this reason, Theis reached out to a cross-section of community leaders and invited them to participate in a deliberative dialogue hosted by Kingwood Christian Church.
The Deliberative Dialogues construct used by Theis’ team at Lone Star provides a way for community members of diverse views and experiences to seek a shared understanding of a problem and to search for common ground for action. Dialogues are led by trained moderators, and use an issue discussion guide that frames the issue by presenting the overall problem, followed by three or four broad approaches to the problem. Dialogue participants work through the issue by considering each approach; examining what appeals to them or concerns them; and also what costs, consequences, and tradeoffs may be incurred in following that approach.
What was the result of our conversation? After a two hour discussion, the groups agreed on three areas of common ground. Yes, I will say it again. Three significant areas of agreement were identified that, if addressed, could really improve our political dysfunction. The group plans to reconvene in May and present these points at a candidate forum co-sponsored by the Kingwood Area Republican Women and Kingwood Area Democrats. How is that for a night’s work? The tried and true art of respectful, open-minded conversation prevails again. And I could not be more pleased that Kingwood Christian Church was the host.