The United States’ Democratic Promise (IF Discussion Guide)

The 36-page discussion guide, The United States’ Democratic Promise, was published by Interactivity Foundation in 2011 and edited by Dennis Boyer. For this discussion guide, IF brought together panelists to explore what democracy has come to mean in the US, why we value it, and to guide further discussion by offering contrasting public policy possibilities. Below is an excerpt from the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here, both in English and in Spanish.

From the introduction…

In this project, the two panels met in Madison, Wisconsin, from September 2010 to May 2011. This included a period of significant political turmoil in Wisconsin, including two months of protests by citizen groups and labor unions and an occupation of the state capitol. Several panelists played a role in these protests while several others opposed them. Needless to say, conditions on the ground provided a very interesting backdrop to the fundamental issues involving democratic governance and democratic government.

Panelists considered democratic governance to involve those elements of civil society that contribute to the conversation on the direction a democratic society should take, the cultivation of skills that contribute to democratic citizenship, and the formation of public opinion on choices that democratic citizens must make. Panelists saw these governance areas as important, or more important, than the formal systems of elections and processes that make up democratic government. It was the sentiment of the panels that a discussion of democracy in modern society must take both governance and government into account.

The panels started with a recognition that the United States’ experiment with democracy has been shaped by many forces and that our understanding of what democracy is has grown steadily. It was noted early on that the United States was founded as a republic with constitutional features that did not guarantee wide participation or majority rule. There was much struggle over who could participate as a citizen and the extent of the rights of that participation. Along the way, most U.S. citizens developed a sense of government of, for, and by the people, which many interpret as a promise of democracy.

Panelists felt that this promise of democracy has numerous aspects—some in contention with others. For some, the most important elements were freedom from arbitrary and heavy-handed government. For others, the central features had more to do with enlarging the community of citizenship and fostering participation. Many saw a complex web of rights and responsibilities that need to function as a democratic “ecosystem.” Almost all thought that attention must be paid to honest elections and fair democratic processes that inspire confidence and deal with democratic citizenship in the face of changing social conditions and expanding technological capabilities.

By the end of the project, panelists had arrived at the items that make up the possibilities in this report. Panelists recognized that some citizens might not want to enlarge democratic participation and that some public discussions of this report might focus on the reasons not to pursue these possibilities. The possibilities are contrasting approaches to the search for a democracy that goes beyond periodic elections and lip service to encourage participation. The possibilities value the consent and informed involvement of citizens. The possibilities also value the proximity of decision making and action to citizens…

Interactivity Foundation Fellows conduct discussion projects based on a process that relies on two panels (one of citizen-generalists and one of expert-specialists) to explore and develop areas of concern. These projects ask questions, develop answers, and complete other developmental tasks that assist in the drafting of contrasting policy possibilities that, hopefully, serve as discussion starting points for the public.

If you are interested in further information about the process used to develop IF reports or IF’s work in general, we invited you to consult our website at interactivityfoundation.org

The PDF version of this report is available for download here

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website at www.interactivityfoundation.org.

Follow on Twitter: @IFTalks

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/the-united-states-democratic-promise/

Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The 23-page issue guide, Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? was published in January 2018 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address current immigration to the US. The issue guide is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here and is also available in Spanish here, and there is a post-forum questionnaire for both languages.

From NIFI…

The immigration issue affects virtually every American, directly or indirectly, often in deeply personal ways. This guide is designed to help people deliberate together about how we should approach the issue. The three options presented here reflect different ways of understanding what is at stake and force us to think about what matters most to us when we face difficult problems that involve all of us and that do not have perfect solutions.

The issue raises a number of difficult questions, and there are no easy answers:

Should we strictly enforce the law and deport people who are here without permission, or would deporting millions of people outweigh their crime?

Should we welcome more newcomers to build a more vibrant and diverse society, or does this pose too great a threat to national unity?

Should we accept more of the growing numbers of refugees from war-torn regions, or should we avoid the risk of allowing in people whose backgrounds may not have been fully checked?

Should our priority be to help immigrants assimilate into our distinctively American way of life, including learning English, or should we instead celebrate a growing mosaic of different peoples?

The concerns that underlie this issue are not confined to party affiliation, nor are they captured by labels like “conservative” or “liberal.”

The research involved in developing the guide included interviews and conversations with Americans from all walks of life, as well as surveys of nonpartisan public-opinion research, subject-matter scans, and reviews of initial drafts by people with direct experience with the subject.

This issue guide placemat presents three options for deliberation:

Option 1: Welcome Immigrants, Be a Beacon of Freedom
This option says that immigration has helped make America what it is today- a dynamic and diverse culture, an engine of the global economy, and a beacon of freedom around the world.  It says that part of what defines America as a nation is the opportunity for all to pursue the American dream. We should develop an immigration policy that builds on that tradition by welcoming newcomers, helping immigrant families stay together, and protecting those fleeing from war and oppression.

Option 2: Enforce the Law, Be Fair to Those Who Follow the Rules
This option says we need a fair system, where the rules are clear and, above all, enforced. With an estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally, our current system is unjust and uncontrolled. In fairness to the long lines of people who are waiting to come to America legally, we must strengthen our commitment to border security, crack down on visa overstays, and introduce more stringent measures to deal with immigrants living here without authorization.

Option 3: Slow Down and Rebuild Our Common Bonds
This option recognizes that newcomers have strengthened American culture in the past. But the current levels of immigration are so high, and the country is now so diverse, that we must regain our sense of national purpose and identity. We should have a measured immigration policy—one that reduces the rate of immigration and assists newcomers as they become part of the American community. We need to find ways to accommodate newcomers without compromising our sense of national unity.

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NIF-Logo2014About NIFI Issue Guides
NIFI’s Issue Guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, Issue Guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.

Follow on Twitter: @NIForums

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/en/issue-guide/coming-america

Promoting Mental Health in Community (IF Discussion Report)

The 18-page discussion report, Promoting Mental Health in Community, was published by Interactivity Foundation in October 2015 and edited by Nneka Edwards and Suzanne Goodney Lea. This is the initial draft of the discussion report; IF is planning to create a full discussion guide that communities can use when gun violence occurs in order to take mental health concerns into consideration when developing public policy. Below is an excerpt of the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here.

From IF…

This is a unique discussion project for IF, in that we have collaborated with the parents of a young man who was shot and killed in a mall rampage shooting in Columbia, MD, back in January 2014.  The young man who was killed (Tyler) was one of two young people killed before the gunman took his own life.  The shooter was only 18 and was most likely in the early stages of schizophrenia; he had actually tried to seek mental health care, but to no avail.  Tyler’s father did an interview on a local news station, and I was struck by his poise and compassion.  I’d never seen a parent in such a horrible situation exhibit such genuine empathy towards the shooter and his family.

It turns out that Tyler, who was just 25 when he was killed, had spent three years sober after overcoming addiction challenges.  He got sober once he made the connection for himself between his addiction issues and his own mental health state (he was manic depressive).  He had spent the three years before his death helping others to make the same connection between mental health and addiction so that they, too, could overcome their drug/alcohol dependencies.  The number of lives he touched surprised even his parents, who were moved by the many stories of the connections and healing Tyler had put out into the world around him.

Tyler’s parents have a strong desire to carry on Tyler’s work by helping citizens to become more aware of their own and others’ mental health—and of the importance of good mental health, more generally.  They are generally interested in creating a space to explore these issues in meaningful ways.  Violence is so rampant in American society, and, too often, efforts to discuss ways to curtail it become confounded by important debates over guns and gun restrictions.  Meantime, underlying mental health factors—which also must be discussed if we are to reduce the frequency and impact of these events–rarely get seriously explored.  We hope to begin to alter that narrative by providing the interesting array of possibilities in this discussion guide for exploration within communities of varying sizes and locations.  Very few American communities have been untouched by sudden eruptions of violence in a public space.

IF’s discussion guide on depression is by far the least discussed of any of our discussion guides.  This likely reflects the stigma associated with mental health conditions.  What’s interesting, however, is that when that discussion guide is discussed, the quality and meaningfulness of the discussion to its participants is marked.  We hope that your group’s exploration of the ideas and possibilities in this discussion guide will better inform your participants about things that they and/or their family members may be facing without even realizing it and about how to find and create the resources and support that will help to stave off the sorts of mental health disasters that too-often erupt within our communities.

If you are interested in further information about the process used to develop IF reports or IF’s work in general, we invited you to consult our website at interactivityfoundation.org

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website at www.interactivityfoundation.org.

Follow on Twitter: @IFTalks

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/promoting-mental-health-in-community/

Living Room Conversation Guide: Guns and Responsibility

Living Room Conversation published the conversation guide, Guns and Responsibility, which was released October 2017. The guide gives pointers on how to hold living room conversations in order to develop a deeper understanding between participants around gun beliefs, gun safety, and responsible gun ownership. You can read the guide below, find a downloadable PDF here, or the original on Living Room Conversation’s site here.

From the guide…

Overview
In Living Room Conversations, a small group of people (e.g. 4-7) people come together to get to know one another in a more meaningful way. Guided by a simple and sociable format, participants practice being open and curious about all perspectives, with a focus on learning from one another, rather than trying to debate the topic at hand.

The Living Room Conversation Ground Rules
Be Curious and Open to Learning
Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration and learning.
Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking.

Show Respect and Suspend Judgment
Human beings tend to judge one another, do your best not to. Setting judgments aside will better
enable you to learn from others and help them feel respected and appreciated.

Look for Common Ground and Appreciate Differences
In this conversation, we look for what we agree on and simply appreciate that we will disagree on
some beliefs and opinions.

Be Authentic and Welcome that from Others
Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal and heartfelt experience. Be
considerate to others who are doing the same.

Be Purposeful and to the Point
Notice if what you are conveying is or is not “on purpose” to the question at hand. Notice if you are
making the same point more than once.

Own and Guide the Conversation
Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and the conversation by noticing what’s
happening and actively support getting yourself and others back “on purpose” when needed.

Though feedback is consistently positive, some people are concerned about managing people that dominate the conversation as well as off-topic, or disruptive situations during the Living Room Conversation. We offer these tips:
● Everyone shares responsibility for guiding the conversation and is invited to help keep the conversation on track.
● The group can decide to keep track of time in some way to help people remember to keep their comments similar in length to others. Soft music when the time is up is a great reminder.
● If an area of interest has arisen that has taken the group off topic, ask the group if they would like to set aside the new topic for a separate Living Room Conversation.
● If someone is dominating, disruptive or has found their soapbox, respectfully interrupt the situation, refer to the Ground Rules and invite everyone to get back on track with the current question
● If the group opts to shift from the format of the Living Room Conversations, please provide us with feedback for future learning. There are many ways to have a great conversation! Thank you! feedback@livingroomconversations.org

Rounds/Questions: The Living Room Conversation Starts Here
We all care about the victims of gun violence. We all love our children and our family. We all want children to arrive home safely at the end of the day. We have seen tragedy in our communities and want that to end. Let’s start with this as a given. This conversation focuses on our own personal experience with guns, gun safety and our beliefs about the balance between constitutional right and common good. This is a conversation about our hopes and concerns with a diverse set of community members in order to develop a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges surrounding responsible gun ownership.

Background Information: While you don’t need to be an expert on this topic, sometimes people want background information. Our partner, AllSides, has prepared a variety of articles reflecting multiple sides of this topic.

Round One: Getting Started / Why Are We Here?
● What interested you or drew you to this conversation?

Round Two: Core Values
Answer one or more of the following:
● What sense of purpose / mission / duty guides you in your life?
● What would your best friend say about who you are and what makes you “tick”?
● What are your hopes and concerns for your community and/or the country?

Round Three: Guns and Responsibility
Remember that the goal for this Living Room Conversation is for all of us to listen and learn about where we have different opinions and where we have shared interests, intentions and goals. Answer one or more of the following questions:
● Where did you learn about guns? And what did you learn?
● What role have guns played in your life?
● What are your concerns about gun safety?
● Are gun issues on your top 10 list of concerns? Why or why not?

Round Four: Reflection
Answer one or more of the following questions:
● In one sentence, share what was most meaningful / valuable to you in the experience of this Living Room Conversation.
● What learning, new understanding or common ground was found on this topic?
● Has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group, including yourself?

Round Five: Accomplishment and Next Steps
Answer both of the following questions:
● What is one important thing you thought was accomplished here?
● Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?

Closing​ – Thank you! Please complete the feedback form to help improve Living Room Conversations.

To download a printable version of this conversation guide with the feedback form, click here.

About Living Room Conversations
Living Room Conversations are a conversational bridge across issues that divide and separate us. They provide an easy structure for engaging in friendly yet meaningful conversation with those with whom we may not agree. These conversations increase understanding, reveal common ground, and sometimes even allow us to discuss possible solutions. No fancy event or skilled facilitator is needed.

Follow on Twitter: @LivingRoomConvo

Resource Link: www.livingroomconversations.org/topics/guns_and_responsibility/

How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? (NIFI Issue Advisory)

The 4-page issue advisory, How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? was published September 2016 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address the tragic realities of mass shootings that are occurring in our communities. The issue advisory is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here.

From NIFI…

The tragic attacks in Orlando, Florida, San Bernardino, California, and other places have raised concerns among many people across the nation. Other violent episodes, such as a teenager who was gunned down after returning home from the president’s inauguration, have also drawn attention. While mass shootings are infrequent, they may be increasing. Each event has devastating effects on the entire community.

Overall, the United States has become safer in recent years. Yet mass shooters target innocent people indiscriminately, often in locales where people ordinarily (and rightly) feel safe—movie theaters, college campuses, schools. How can we stop these violent acts and ensure that people feel safe in their homes and communities?

This issue advisory presents three options for deliberation, along with their drawbacks:

​Option 1: Reduce the Threat of Mass Shootings
The problem is that we are too vulnerable to violence. Communities and homes should be places where people are safe. The means for carrying out mass shootings are all around, and those who might perpetrate them are free among us. It is too easy for individuals to obtain weapons that are designed to kill a large number of people in a short time. We cannot stop all violent impulses, but we can and should make it much more difficult for people to act on them. We need to restrict the availability of dangerous weapons, identify potentially dangerous people, and prevent them from carrying out their plans.

Option 2: Equip People to Defend Themselves
The problem is that most people are unable to defend themselves against sudden danger from violence. There will always be some people who are a threat to those around them. In such situations, we cannot afford to rely on someone else to rescue us. We need to be prepared for violence and have the means to defend against it. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees this right.

Option 3: Root Out Violence in Society
The problem is that we live in a culture that perpetuates violence and numbs people to its effects. Violence and criminality are pervasive in popular music, films, television, video games, and sports. Mass murderers gain notoriety through nonstop media portrayals. This results in a culture in which stories of mass shootings circulate and gain momentum, increasing the likelihood of further shootings. We need to root out and stop the glorification of violence to break this cycle.

Note about this Issue Advisory
Recent horrific events involving mass shootings have touched a deep chord in many of us. Deliberative forums on this issue will not be easy. It will be important to remember, and to remind participants, that the objective of these forums is to begin to work through the tensions between security, freedom, and a healthy society.

Mass violence evokes raw emotions. Participants in this forum may become angry, and those with strong feelings may feel attacked by those who hold other points of view. This may sidetrack the deliberation. In productive deliberation, people examine the advantages and disadvantages of different options for addressing a difficult public problem, weighing these against the things they hold deeply valuable. This framing is designed to help people work through their emotions to recognize the trade-offs that each of us must wrestle with in deciding how to move forward.

The framework outlined in this issue advisory encompasses several options and provides an alternative means of moving forward in order to avoid the polarizing rhetoric now growing around the major policy options. Each option is rooted in a shared concern and proposes a distinct strategy for addressing the problem that includes roles for citizens to play. Equally important, each option presents the drawbacks inherent in each action. Recognizing these drawbacks allows people to see the trade-offs they must consider in pursuing any action. It is these drawbacks, in large part, that make coming to shared judgment so difficult—but ultimately, so productive.

One effective way to begin deliberative forums on this issue is to ask people to describe how the issue of mass violence has affected them or their families. Some will have had direct experience; many more will say they are affected by the fear of such acts. They are likely to mention the concerns identified in the framework.

The goal of this framework is to assist people in moving from initial reactions to more reflective judgment. That requires serious deliberation or weighing options for action against the things people value.

NIF-Logo2014About NIFI Issue Guides
NIFI’s Issue Guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, Issue Guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.

Follow on Twitter: @NIForums

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/es/issue-guide/issue-advisory-how-can-we-stop-mass-shootings-our-communities-2016

Future Possibilities for Civil Rights Policy (IF Discussion Guide)

The 32-page discussion guide, Future Possibilities for Civil Rights Policy, was published by Interactivity Foundation in May 2011 and edited by Suzanne Goodney Lea. For this discussion guide, participants consider what does a civil right actually mean and then explore the policy directions that will redefine civil rights over the next few decades. The guide is available in both English and Spanish. Below is an excerpt of the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here.

From IF…

We hear a lot about civil rights. Some people say these rights embody the very soul or essence of our democracy and must be actively safeguarded. Others observe that these kinds of rights are spreading to other places around the world. Still others contend that these rights must sometimes be given up in order to protect our nation’s security. But do we ever stop and think about what rights are or could be? Why do we have them? What purposes do they serve and where might they be headed?

Our country’s Constitution and other founding documents incorporate many important ideas about civil rights as they have been imagined within our democratic society. Still, while our Constitution has survived for a couple hundred years, it has also had to change to meet the challenges of new social and political realities. We’ve seen some civil rights expanded to people who were not even recognized as “persons” in earlier times. We’ve also seen some rights contracted during times of social or political upheaval, or eroded through disuse.

Participants in this project discussion are struggling with multiple possible dimensions to civil rights that go well beyond the conventional legal and political frameworks. For example, how might civil rights influence and even define the ways we choose to live our lives as individuals, the ways our government treats us as citizens, and the ways we treat one another as fellow citizens? How might civil rights relate to broader concepts of rights or citizenship or democracy? What new civil rights might emerge and what others might fall away as we move forward into this century?

Panelist discussions for this project began in the summer of 2009, completed their work in the early fall of 2010, and the final discussion report is now available in both printed and online versions.

You can download a copy of this report from our “Discussion Reports” page (also listed in the sidebar to the right), which lists all of our published reports, or, to download a copy directly, you can click on either of the following links:  Future Possibilities for Civil Rights Policyor en Español, Politica Sobre Derechos Civiles (32 páginas/1.3 MB).

If you are interested in further information about the process used to develop IF reports or IF’s work in general, we invited you to consult our website at interactivityfoundation.org

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website at www.interactivityfoundation.org.

Follow on Twitter: @IFTalks

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/the-future-of-civil-rights/

What Should We Do About The Opioid Epidemic? (NIFI Issue Advisory)

The National Issues Forum Institute released the six-page Issue Advisory, What Should We Do About The Opioid Epidemic?, published October 2017. The issue advisory presents three options to use during deliberation on how society can address the rising opioid epidemic that has swept the U.S. The issue advisory is available for free download on NIFI’s site here, as well as, a post-forum questionnaire.

From NIFI…

Drug abuse, a problem the United States has faced for decades, has taken a sharp and lethal turn with the rise of opioids—both legal pain- killers, such as oxycodone and fentanyl, and illegal ones like heroin.

More than 64,000 Americans were killed by drug overdoses in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and at least two-thirds of those deaths were caused by opioids. That is worse than the peak of the HIV epidemic in 1995 and more than the number of US combat deaths in the entire Vietnam War.

In the last year, doctors wrote more than 236 million prescriptions for opioids, or about one for every American adult. But many patients became addicted to the painkillers as their bodies began to tolerate higher and higher doses. Others, if they could no longer get prescriptions, switched to heroin; then came the even deadlier fentanyl.

Now drug abuse is so widespread it is even affecting productivity–employers say they can’t fill positions because too many applicants fail a drug test. The Federal Reserve reports that opioid addiction may be shrinking the number of job applicants because it is keeping otherwise able-bodied people out of the workforce.

The problem exists in almost every community throughout the United States, though it has hit hardest in the Northeast, the Midwest, and Appalachian regions, where joblessness and poverty have hollowed out many small towns and left families in desperate circumstances. In Cincinnati, Ohio, police estimated that police officers and paramedics spent at least 102 hours tending to overdose patients in just one week. Responding to the crisis is straining the budgets of many small towns and counties.

Doctors and nurses now see the epidemic’s effects on the next generation, a wave of babies born addicted to painkillers or heroin. Sara Murray and Rhonda Edmunds, nurses in Huntington, West Virginia, founded Lily’s Place, a facility for addicted babies and their mothers.

“The devil has come to Huntington,” Murray said on CNN. “We have generational addiction and that’s their normal. It was their mother’s normal. It was their grandmother’s normal. And now, it’s their normal.”

What should we do to relieve the opioid epidemic facing our communities? This issue advisory presents three options for deliberation, along with their drawbacks. Each option offers advantages as well as risks. If we increase enforcement, for example, this may result in many more people in prison. If we reduce the number of prescriptions written, we may increase suffering among people with painful illnesses.

Option 1: Focus on Treatment for All
This option says that, given the rising number of deaths from opioids, we are not devoting enough resources to treatment to make real headway in turning around the epidemic. Addiction is primarily a medical and behavioral problem, and those are the best tools for combating the crisis. Treatment should be available on demand for anyone who wants it. At the same time, the pharmaceutical companies that have profited from making and promoting opioid painkillers need to contribute more to the solution

Option 2: Focus on Enforcement
This option says that our highest priority must be keeping our communities safe and preventing people from becoming addicted in the first place. Strong enforcement measures are needed, including crackdowns and harsher sentences for dealers, distributors, and overprescribing doctors. And we should take tougher measures to cut off the supply of drugs at the source. Addiction to opioids and other hard drugs brings with it crime and other dangers, and closing our eyes to these dangers only makes the problem worse. Mandatory drug testing for more workers is needed. In the long run, a tough approach is the most compassionate.

Option 3: Focus on Individual Choice
This option recognizes that society cannot force treatment on people. We should not continue to waste money on a failed “war on drugs” in any form. Only those who wish to be free of addiction end up recovering. We should be clear that crime will not be tolerated, but if people who use drugs are not harming society or behaving dangerously, they should be tolerated and allowed to use safely, even if they are damaging their own lives. Those who do not or cannot make the decision to get well should not be forced, and communities shouldn’t spend their limited resources trying to force treatment on people.

About NIFI Issue Guides
NIFI’s Issue Guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, Issue Guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.

Follow on Twitter: @NIForums

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/en/issue-guide/issue-advisory-what-should-we-do-about-opioid-epidemic

Home for the Holidays: Dialogue Across Divides Among Family and Friends

Living Room Conversations released the guide, Home for the Holidays: Dialogue Across Divides Among Family and Friends, which we found Fall 2017 (original publish date unknown). The guide give excellent pointers on how to hold living room conversations with family members taking into consideration all the challenges that family can bring. You can read the guide below, find a downloadable PDF here or the original on Living Room Conversation’s site here.

From the guide…

This year we’ve been hearing from all sorts of people that they want to use Living Room Conversations skills to help heal family relationships​. People have experienced loss of or harm to treasured relationships because of politics. And now with the holidays coming up they are considering how to navigate. Does love supersede politics? For most people it does. But there is still confusion and hurt to manage. How do we do this? How can we listen to each other and hold the tension of our differences?

People have reported going home and having better conversations with relatives and friends they disagree with after having Living Room Conversations. There are skills that we get to practice in Living Room Conversations that are easy to take home. ​Some have invited relatives to join them in Living Room Conversations. Like with any Living Room Conversation you only invite people you believe will be able and willing to abide by the conversation agreements and follow the structure. People have a natural intuition about what friends and family to invite. We all know family members that aren’t good at taking turns being curious or listening with respect. We also tend to know when family is good at it, or might be, with gentle reminders of the conversation agreements

For years we’ve told people that family is one situation where we are not fully confident that Living Room Conversations will work. Why? Because family is known for breaking host and guest social norms. Because family knows each other’s triggers and because family relations often require more of us. Emotional stakes tend to be higher, conversations are colored by history and it can feel easier to take the proverbial gloves off and fight dirty, unconstrained by the politeness we give others. But in most instances, we can love our family, even when we don’t like what they believe!

We are thrilled to have more and more people doing the Relationships First and other Living Room Conversations in order to hone their relationship skills and thinking. Some people come away with a new appreciation for the power of listening or new curiosity about why people they love think the way they do or new insights about the power of a asking questions without​ ​judgement​. There are very few quick fixes in the world of relationships. Building trust and understanding takes time. This is slow and satisfying work.

INTRODUCTION
It’s no secret we sometimes disagree with families and friends. What seems secret is how to handle it when we do! At Living Room Conversations, we specialize in structuring challenging conversations so they are safe and enjoyable using our Conversation Agreements and Conversation Guides. Wouldn’t it be great if we could talk to family and friends as respectfully as people in Living Room Conversations talk to strangers? We realized it could be useful to share our Conversation Agreements more broadly for the holidays. They are good to keep in mind for kinder dinner-table conversations. True, others may not be following the Conversation Agreements but sometimes good practices can be contagious and you can have the satisfaction of feeling better about your own part in the conversation.

CONVERSATION​ ​AGREEMENTS
These are the Living Room Conversation Agreements:

  • Be curious and open to learning​. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking. Enjoy hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration.
  • Show respect and suspend judgment. ​Human beings tend to judge one another; do your best not to. Setting judgments aside opens you up to learning from others and makes them feel respected and appreciated.
  • Find common ground and note differences. ​Look for common ground you can agree on and take an interest in the differing beliefs and opinions of others.
  • Be authentic and welcome that from others. ​Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal experience. Be considerate of others who are doing the same.
  • Be purposeful and to the point. ​Notice if what you are conveying is or is not pertinent to the topic at hand.
  • Own and guide the conversation. ​Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and that of the conversation. Be proactive in getting yourself and others back on track if needed.

THE​ ​BASICS
Listening is powerful. It doesn’t mean you agree. Just giving someone your full attention is a valuable gift. People rarely change their beliefs in a conversation; but people often expand understanding through conversation. Focus on learning and sharing rather than debating or convincing. To do so you can:

  • Ask thoughtful questions, inspired by whatever honest curiosity you feel
  • Try to understand, not convince or persuade
  • Share personal stories and experiences, not data points
  • Notice if there are areas of agreement.
  • Assume good intentions and extend the benefit of the doubt
  • Thoughtfully end the conversation when you are triggered or tired
  • Share appreciation for having the conversation

CORE​ ​SKILLS

  • Generous listening. Listen deeply, without an intention to respond, refute, or defend. Just listen.
  • Assume good intent. Give the person the benefit of the doubt.
  • Genuine curiosity. Show curiosity by asking questions and learning more about the person’s life experiences that have shaped their perspective.
  • Respectful engagement. Showing respect and kindness can diffuse a great deal of tension and it’s often contagious.

POTENTIAL​ ​PITFALLS

  • Insults or name-calling. Using unflattering names or making derogatory remarks about people that the other person cares about (including political leaders) are fighting words.
  • Overgeneralizing. Beware of using words like “you always” and “you never.” They are seldom true, and these words tend to feel attacking.
  • Leading questions. Steer clear of asking questions designed to “trap” the person or lead them to a pre-determined answer you want to hear.
  • Talking more than listening. It is rare to make progress on understanding a different perspective while doing the majority of the talking.
  • Facts, figures, and data-points. Few things shut down a good conversation faster than cold, hard, facts…and alternative facts! Focus on concerns and experiences rather than data.

Additional​ ​Skills​ ​to​ ​Build​ ​Connection

  • Set the stage. Establish your interest in an enjoyable, productive conversation rather than a debate or argument.
  • Listen for values and desired outcomes. Most of us have core values that overlap (health, safety, prosperity). Identifying these can help strengthen the relationship.
  • Verify and acknowledge feelings. Ask about, and seek to understand what the other person is feeling about the topic. They may have very personal experiences that shape their perspective. Be aware of these feelings and acknowledge them.
  • Use humor, if possible. Be willing to laugh at yourself when and where appropriate. Humor can lighten the mood and make the conversation enjoyable.
  • First-person language. Own your feelings and express them as “I felt ______(feeling) when you ______ (describe specific behavior and when it occurred). For example, “I felt frustrated when you said I was unrealistic this morning.”
  • Explore and reflect rather than disagree directly. For example, starting sentences with “I am wondering….” can be very productive if it is sincere.
  • Find common ground. Look for and acknowledge areas of agreement.
  • Use engaging language. See how often you can replace “but” with “and”
  • Ask open-ended questions. This allows others to think out loud and may offer a better path for understanding their perspective.
  • Keep a light tone. When judgement creeps in, your tone will give you away! If this happens, own it, apologize and ask another question. FIRST​ ​AID Families know where all the buttons are. What happens if you get triggered? Avoid responding when you know you are triggered and feel yourself being defensive and/or needing to be right. Sometimes, letting go of the conversation is the best course of action. A break for a short walk or new activity or change of subject can help restore equanimity. Try the following to change the direction of a conversation and/or mend a conversation that has turned destructive:
  • Let’s change the topic. Tell me, how is your garden (or other hobby)?
  • This is a heated conversation. Our relationship is more important to me.
  • I feel bad when we argue. Let’s stop for now.
  • I’m sorry we argued. I care about you.
  • Our relationship will always be more important to me than our differences.

OTHER​ ​CONSIDERATIONS
When we stand in self-righteous anger, i.e. “how can you believe THAT?” we find ourselves separated. Some people — including family members — would prefer to be right than to be connected.

Sometimes we see family as a reflection of ourselves. We may feel an obligation to make them see “the error of their ways.” And we may want to be clear that we are not flawed in that way, too. It can be much harder to avoid judging and remain curious with family–even when we know this is the most effective way for us to connect with them.

With family, not arguing and not pushing back can feel like a betrayal of our own beliefs. It can feel like selling out just to keep peace at the dinner table. But listening with genuine curiosity is not selling out or taking the easy road. There is deep value in taking a more respectful and curious approach. When we connect in this way mutual listening is far more possible. And remember: again and again we hear from Living Room Conversation Guide users who have friends and family with very different views that love​ ​comes​ ​first​. Let’s let it!

Some family and friends may not be ready for a thoughtful conversation and that is perfectly ok. At Living Room Conversation we choose conversation partners based upon their ability — and commitment – to abide by the conversation agreements and enjoy an exploratory conversation. At a holiday gathering you may be the only person following conversation agreements. Choosing who to engage with, in what setting, and at what level is wise. For some people listening might be the only thing you want to do with them…moving on to others where you believe some mutual curiosity and appreciation might be productive. Also, recognize that a family gathering might be a place where some topics are simply not welcome. Be gentle with yourself and others. Sometimes the simple act of breaking bread together is enough.

About Living Room Conversations
Living Room Conversations are a conversational bridge across issues that divide and separate us. They provide an easy structure for engaging in friendly yet meaningful conversation with those with whom we may not agree. These conversations increase understanding, reveal common ground, and sometimes even allow us to discuss possible solutions. No fancy event or skilled facilitator is needed.

Follow on Twitter: @LivingRoomConvo

Resource Link: www.livingroomconversations.org/home-for-the-holidays/

Pocket Guide to Hosting Zine

Story Artist Mary Alice Arthur and graphic facilitator Viola Clark collaborated in 2016 to create the first in their Zine series – a POCKET GUIDE TO HOSTING. One side features the Art of Hosting practices, the other side features the AoH methods.  Here is a little snapshot of a couple of pages of the zine. (A zine is a self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier.)

Art of Hosting will be using the Zine in the upcoming trainings in Innsbruck, Austria and Denmark.

Next in the series will be Harvesting.

Mary Alice advises: “It is set up as an A4 (if you are not on the A4 system, shrink to fit the space) — follow the instructions for folding (and unleash your inner creative geek!).”

Resource Link: http://ncdd.org/rc/wp-content/uploads/AoHHostingZine.pdf