The United States and many parts of the world have developed an unfortunate culture of debating, and not listening or understanding the other side. We only have to watch the events of the 2016 US Presidential election. “I’m right and you are wrong!” People shout at each other, and fists start flying. It’s these extreme positions that start wars. Whether it is religion, natural resources, or energy, advocacy is becoming more extreme. We no longer dialogue.
Dialoguing includes interacting, personal sharing, listening and understanding the other side, and admitting there are gray areas. One does not need to change their mind to engage in dialogue; but rather listen and try to understand the position and concerns of other sides. Debating on the other hand, involves stating a case and then refuting the other side’s position.
At a community presentation on climate change, I mentioned whether people believe the climate is changing due to human activities, or due to natural patterns, it is undisputable that there are changes occurring to weather patterns and sea level rise. One person took offence to my statement and said there is no doubt that humans are the cause of climate change. At another event on the same topic, a man sternly told me that what is happening to the planet has happened many times and it is a natural pattern.
What is important? Shouting the loudest, demanding you are right and the other side is wrong? Is it important to work together to correct the problem? Or, is it more important to spend time refuting the other side? In the climate change discussion, neither side seems willing to disagree that climate patterns are changing, sea levels are rising and significant economic damage is occurring.
Our society has “stereotyped” positions and blames the other side when something goes wrong. We’ve taken on a systemic “group-think” behavior; that is, we reach our own “consensus” without considering alternative viewpoints.
Let’s put our egos aside and collaborate on solutions. To do this, we need to commit to change the way we view problems; change our positions of “I’m right and you are wrong” to being open to the viewpoints of others. A cultural change of corporations, advocacy groups, government, and yes, individuals, must occur. We need to get away from debating and demanding to be “right”, and work toward dialoguing and collaborating on solutions. It isn’t easy. It can be time consuming. We probably will never completely agree on all solutions. But the future of the earth, humankind and the animal kingdom is in our hands. If we continue to communicate combatively, the pendulum will only continue to swing radically back and forth.
Doreen Liberto, AICP, MDR, is part of Collaborative Global Initiative (CGI). Her extensive experience includes facilitating collaborative agreements for development, land use, environmental, and public policy issues. Her projects have included alternative transportation systems, climate change, resource management and communication strategies. Doreen has 30 plus years of experience in government and private practice as a planner where she has often faced public outrage in order to facilitate successful outcomes for complicated land use projects.
Collaborative Global Initiative (CGI) is comprised of international mediators and collaborators. CGI goes far beyond simply resolving conflicts or creating spaces for debate and discourse. CGI works to create processes and systems that allow for deep and ongoing collaboration across differences. CGI helps to create meaningful dialogue. To do this we help nurture an understanding and appreciation of the interdependence of the actors in the system. As the participants face the reality that the diverse perspectives around a given issue are fundamentally interconnected, facilitators can help them explore new and creative ways to work collaboratively into the future.