Valley Voices

Don’t shoot! Just talk. How to debate politics politely in your living room.

An SUV, with a bullet hole in the windshield and a flat tire, sits in the parking lot at the scene of a multiple shooting in Alexandria, Va., Wednesday, June 14, 2017, involving House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La., and others, during a congressional baseball practice.
An SUV, with a bullet hole in the windshield and a flat tire, sits in the parking lot at the scene of a multiple shooting in Alexandria, Va., Wednesday, June 14, 2017, involving House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La., and others, during a congressional baseball practice. AP

It’s like we live in “Groundhog Day.”

Following this latest series of public shootings in San Francisco and Virginia, pundits will speculate and interest groups will ride the wave of outrage, propping up their positions and claiming their way of thinking would have prevented these tragedies. You already know the script for the film, right?

And we’ll get to live it over and over until we “get it right.”

In the movie, “getting it right” meant opening the heart of the main character played by Bill Murray. Our question is this: As Americans, how many tragedies must happen before we get it right? What will it take for us to care about one another?

Our president, congressional leaders and others are calling us to come together. But how? We already know what doesn’t work. That’s much of what we’ve been doing; denigrating people, their thinking and their priorities; mocking “repugnicans” and “libtards” as unhinged from reality; labeling people and dismissing them.

And that brings us back to this moment in history. It is reported that the latest shooter to attack the Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, was influenced by the state of our nation, as was the deadly violence of the man in Portland, Ore., who killed good Samaritans protecting two young girls. Sandy Hook is now a national reference point for our inability to protect ourselves and our children.

If we truly want solutions, we the people need take responsibility for our culture of violence and decide to make it better.

Why do these tragedies happen? To better protect ourselves, we wonder who we should blame. Or trust.

Recently a Facebook post asking, “Which institutions do you trust?” showed a remarkable level of agreement across the range of political beliefs. None. We distrust our institutions, communities and each other. And our distrust – some deserved and some not – makes us even more vulnerable not just to violent outbursts from desperate people, but makes our entire democratic republic vulnerable.

Some believe that if we avoid people who disagree with us, then we’ll be OK. If we stop engaging in affairs of other countries, then we’ll be OK. If we stop allowing new immigrants to come into our country, we’ll be OK. We are afraid of our neighbors and fellow Americans and we are not OK.

We can take a first step toward a safer nation through a simple act that requires courage and love of country. That simple act is a respectful conversation. We must hear and understand our differences to make our communities and our country safer. When we offer deep listening to another person, when we care about each other, without changing a single belief of our own, we reduce the barriers between us.

If we wait for a time of crisis, it’s too late. Desperate people have little or nothing to lose. Conversely, people who have close friends who listen to them and challenge their thinking are healthier all around. Connecting and conversing is prevention for many senseless tragedies.

We are communal creatures. We can reduce isolation, hostility and depression by simply talking with one another. As communities have grown more like-minded, both geographically and virtually, we have done a dangerous thing: we have stopped reaching out to those who challenge us, forgetting that we don’t have to share the same beliefs to care about each other.

When we want or need to challenge our thinking, we reach out to our friends with different viewpoints, including Fresno.

If you want to be part of this quiet revolution in how we talk to each other, check out the website of Living Room Conversations at livingroom

conversations.org for free, open-source conversation guides on over 60 topics that you can simply download. There are organizer calls twice monthly where we help hosts have better conversations.

Our simple first step can be to decide to reach out to people who hold different views from us. Here are the conversation ground rules we suggest:

  • Be curious and open to learning.
  • Show respect and suspend judgment.
  • Find common ground and appreciate differences.
  • Be authentic and welcome authenticity from others.

These ground rules have worked in thousands of conversations around the country and across differences of political party, age, sexual orientation and many others. Go to youtube.com to see examples of Living Room Conversations about same-sex marriage and fake news.

Our colleagues at Village Square, a public forum encouraging community discussions on hot topics, started its message this week with: “This work is no longer optional,” said Liz Joyner. “Please add to the light rather than the darkness. Small things can make all the difference.”

We two, with you, imagine a world where we hold each other with enough regard that we debate and argue politics safely. We envision a world where we have a political preference, but we can respect and live with “the other team.” To get to that world will take an adventure of mutual exploration. We have to be brave and really hear each other. We can get it right this time and end our “Groundhog Day.” Let's talk!

Debilyn Molineaux, formerly of Fresno, now based in Portland, Ore., works full time improving relationships between individuals, institutions and governments in Fresno, among other cities. She is the managing partner for LivingRoomConversations.org, president of CoffeePartyUSA.com and co-director for BridgeAlliance.US.

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