Cornel West and Robert George are among an increasingly shorter list of public figures who openly maintain a deep friendship across ideological differences. West, a self-described radical Democrat, activist, and intellectual at Harvard University, and George, a conservative legal scholar and philosopher at Princeton University, find common ground in their shared pursuit of honest, principled examination of ideas. West and George cite the technique of examining competing ideas in search of truth as critical to their understanding of the world and the issues that divide it. While there is certainly much to be learned from their intellectual exercise, perhaps just as important is the relational principle they exemplify – that one can engage, and even be friends, with someone on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.
This proposition – establishing a relationship with a political “other” – is not always easy or palatable. For some, engaging someone of a different political persuasion may be mentally or emotionally draining to the extent that an individual feels it does them greater harm than good. Others view conversation with someone who holds a different perspective as a one-time exercise that belongs exclusively in an academic or civic learning environment. Still others feel such engagement is an unacceptable form of endorsement that legitimizes views they find abhorrent.
These perspectives are heartfelt and understandable. Many of us, however, realize that living in silos is not healthy for themselves or for democracy, and recognize they should reach out, despite the discomfort and difficulty in doing so. But they just don’t know how, given the lack of diverse perspectives within their social, academic, and professional circles. The Deliberative Citizenship Initiative seeks to help make these connections and provide an alternative mode of engagement that serves as a counterweight to our natural inclination to avoid difficult or politically charged conversations.
Deliberative “D” Teams” create spaces for individuals to talk about issues and current events and get to know one another beyond the surface level of political talking points. These small groups comprised of 4-7 individuals with diverse perspectives and experiences meet every two weeks to discuss important topics and local and national issues. The iterative design of D Teams allows participants to grow into these conversations while building upon a relational community within the group. Further, options for guided facilitation or self-facilitation help provide some structure and guidance to D Team conversations, and enable these discussions to move beyond “just talk” and explore meaningful new ideas and innovative solutions to the problems facing our society.
It is more interesting to have a conversation about immigration in a small-group setting where perspectives can be nuanced and personal stories can be shared. It is easier to discuss experiences with injustice with those you have gotten to know over a period of time. And it is more rewarding to have a dialogue about reforming public health infrastructure when the opinions shared are not isolated and forgotten but can be picked up on in later conversations about other aspects of our healthcare system.
At their core, D Teams enable members of the group to build the personal relationships and shared commitments that make productive deliberation on important issues possible. While not all groups may result in political friendships at the level of Cornel West and Robert George, the DCI hopes to provide a space where these types of relationships are encouraged and allowed to evolve in the shared pursuit of truth, meaning, and community.
So please visit our D Team page to learn more and sign up for a group today! The deadline for our first round of D Team submissions is September 12. On next week’s blog, Dr. Graham Bullock will continue exploring how D Teams can help depolarize our political conversations and enable real connections to be made among their members.