The past few years have not been banner ones for civil discourse in the U.S. as politics —and, it seems, just about any subject under the sun — have become increasingly partisan. It’s becoming more and more difficult for people with opposing viewpoints to have civil discourse.
And it’s not just about the so-called divisive issues that have typically filled the airwaves: gun control, abortion, immigration, environmental protection. It’s about how and whether we are able to vote. It’s about who we are, the ways we live, the values we hold true. It’s even about what daily functions should be considered basic necessities — early education; higher education; broadband; housing — or private luxuries. And the trolling way we use social media and technology often makes matters worse.
National Week of Conversation 2021
This is why the National Week of Conversation (NWOC) was launched four years ago: to create an annual weeklong series of open discussions hosted by hundreds of groups on the things that typically divide us — from politics and religion to geography and race.
“The annual National Week of Conversation was created by members of the #ListenFirst Coalition in 2018 to encourage Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs to have conversations across differences,” says Pearce Godwin, founder, and CEO of the Listen First Project. “Engaging with those unlike ourselves is the only way a country as diverse as America moves forward together.
This year, three new features of NWOC offer an even more direct and wider path to the conversation.
- Citizen Connect is an online resource, a common calendar that collects all the events of more than 300 groups throughout the week in one easily searchable database.
- Media partners like Yahoo and Gannett have signed on to with support by hosting an embedded widget that poses pop-up questions designed to identify a person’s social-political-economic leanings. If the person continues to answer, they’ll be steered toward the option to register for the NWOC and steer them toward signing up to participate in the week.
- America Talks, a new weekend event to kick off NWOC, has a unique plan to get people to really hear one another: by strategically pairing up two strangers — the goal is to reach 10,000 people — to speak honestly with one another, live online, in response to a series of question prompts.
“It’s just two people in an online room who’ve expressed interest in being paired with someone from a different background and point of view from theirs, and who answered those questions differently,” says Kirsten Hansen, Executive Director at Civic Health Project.
It isn’t designed or intended as a debate, and there is rigorous verification and screening in place to weed out trolls looking to get snide or provocative. “America Talks is about joining a pipeline of conversations across the divide,” she says. “It’s based on a program that has existed all over Europe for years called My Country Talks, but ours works from a conversation guide that progresses from innocuous warm-up questions to increasingly deeper rounds.”
#ListenFirst founder Godwin calls the event a chance for Americans to realize what they have in common instead of focusing on the walls that separate them.
“America Talks is designed to transform division and contempt into connection and understanding. Each one-on-one conversation can be a repairing stitch in our badly frayed social fabric,” he says. “Our partnership with USA TODAY not only invites a wide swath of Americans to participate but also ensures that many more will be given hope by the coverage, perhaps inspired to take courageous steps to heal America themselves.”
Common Ground Committee’s upcoming event as part of NWOC “Turning Racism & Extremism Into Hope And Healing – Common Ground Committee“
Want to know more? Check out Citizen Connect which has all of the America Talks and NWOC events.