Small Communities, Big Divisions: Fostering Dialogue in Rural Arkansas with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

Late last summer, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (WRI) in Conway County, Arkansas, hired Essential Partners to offer two days of facilitation training to their program officers. The following week, the Arkansas Agriculture Secretary reached out to WRI to facilitate meetings of a task force on the use of the herbicide Dicamba.

Dicamba is one of the most effective herbicides for taming the spread of pigweed, an invasive plant threatening crops throughout the region.

Race, Religion, and Ethnic Diversity in Columbia, MD

Urged on by their member of congress and state delegates, a group of six faith leaders in Howard County, Maryland contacted Essential Partners to support a series of dialogues about Race, Faith, and Ethnic Diversity. Representing Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, these leaders wanted to open a dialogue across tradition, race, and ethnicity to repair the fabric of their communities as well as the civic life that is essential to democracy.

How a Guns Factsheet Improved Online Dialogue

We don’t usually think of data as a roadblock to productive discourse. We can take it for granted that the world is objective and measurable, and that everyone sees what we see. But that’s not always the case.

The forest for the trees

For two days in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol Building, Guns: An American Conversation brought supporters from both sides of the issue together to engage in dialogue about their views.

Guns: An American Conversation

The subject of guns in America lends itself to strong emotion and great strife, especially in the face of continued mass shootings. We all wish we could make it stop, but we can’t seem to agree on where to focus. The guns themselves? The troubled souls who carry out these acts of violence? The inconsistent regulation of existing laws? The poor infrastructure for recognizing this danger?

How Better Conversations Change Communities

Like all the generations who came before us, we face a range of challenges that call for careful consideration, constructive debate, and collaborative problem-solving. But unlike any time in recent history, we are sharply and painfully divided. And the problem isn't simply that two large constellations of ideological thought reflexively oppose one another at every turn: it's that, underlying this opposition, we have forgotten how to talk about our conflicts constructively.

So: we need to talk.

What Comes Next?

Over the last couple of weeks, all my liberal friends are asking each other the same question: “are you going to March?” Washington, New York, Boston, whatever the location, there hardly seems to be a justifiable excuse for a woman who cares about reproductive rights not to be marching. Being a woman suddenly demands public demonstration. We’re getting swept into a narrative of us and them once again - you’re either “with us” or “against us.” There is a yawning gap between the two, into which many people fall.

How Does Power Affect our Conversations?

In a recent conversation with activists on a college campus, student leaders informed our practitioners that student protesters showed little interest in dialogue because they assumed that “dialogue” was an attempt to placate them by the administration. The power of the administration carried both weight and assumptions. In another of our dialogues, a participant assumed he would have to begin speaking with an apology for his privilege before even participating in the conversation.

Talking to Your Kids This Election

Recently, while we scootered to get ice cream, my eight-year-old daughter asked me if we would move to Canada if a certain candidate won the election. Apparently two of her friends’ families are already planning their escape route. After assuring her that our family would not be going anyway no matter who wins the election, we had a long conversation about the nuances of checks and balances. That might seems strange to do with an eight-year old, but the mysteries of how the world works endlessly fascinate her.

Muster Stations

A few years ago, my father took our whole family on a cruise of the fjords of Norway. None of us had been on a cruise before, and my father was the only one who had ever been on the open sea at all - when he traveled the US for the first time as a young man in the 1950's. Everything about the trip was new to me: being in London, traveling on an enormous cruise ship, encountering the people and culture of Norway. I could never have imagined the grandeur of the scenery, the air, the beauty that seemed infinite.

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