Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rebooting democracy

It happens on every scale. A community, a nation, a people becomes bitterly divided on an issue and the civic conversation deteriorates to become nasty, rhetorically or physically violent and entrenched. Suspicion arises on every side and distrust, camps, territory and accusations fly. Perhaps someone launches a lawsuit, someone else accuses someone of unethical behavior. People who come forward to help are shot down if they can't be pinned down.

It feels like we are going through that on my little Island at the moment. Yes it is a #firstworldproblem, and in more ways than one, for what we are going through is happening all over the place at the moment.

Groups go through this kind of thing all the time. But this breakdown of the public conversation creates difficult problems and has real costs. When the public conversation is throttled by power or bullying or other non-dialogue behaviors we pay a real price.

So what to do? Well, for one I like Peter Block's take on things: transform the conversation starting with how you meet and then what you talk about. You cannot have a new conversation in the old format, so let's get rid of the talking heads and the power points and the raised tables. It's time to all come to the same level and discuss declarations of possibility that would inspire us all towards some action.

We need to find common purpose together, to open ourselves to each other and to host our own stuff so that we can hear other people and offer advocacy of our positions and ideas that makes us easy to be heard in return. We need to start from a place of renewed trust and good faith, even in people that might take advantage of our naïveté in doing so. We need to do that because restoring quality relationships is the only way to reboot the democratic conversation so that we might engage in some truly beautiful community building, nation building.

So, what declaration of possibility for your community can you make that joule inspire us all? What opinion, attitude or behaviour do you commit to letting go of so that a little more space can be opened? The work of cultivating possibility starts with all of us, and the burden is on skeptics. Transform your doubt into clear and legitimate dissent but keep your hope strong. Find someone across the aisle with whom you can reboot this precious space of democratic engagement, and don't let the cynics drive you apart. In the end, only they will gain.

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