Overcoming Polarization Address

Event: Overcoming Polarization
Roundtable hosted by: Pattee Brown
Hood College, Frederick, Maryland
December 12, 2012
Transcript, edited
Tonight in our roundtable discussion, we have been talking about the symptoms and problems of polarization in our present U.S. society. And, while we have been doing that; discussing the problem, we have actually, also, been demonstrating the solution.

In her book, Writing To Change The World, Mary Pipher stated that “The two most radical things you can do in America are to slow down and talk to one another.” (Which, I assume to mean, also listening to one another.)
Based on this observation, we have been somewhat radical tonight with this program; taking the time to be present here and attentive to the voices that have spoken this evening. Now let us take a few moments to really be with the slowing down part of radical.

Let us pause right here. Take a breath and really slow down for a few moments.
Now, doing that, the slowing down, next silently acknowledge our speakers. Tell them in your silence “I heard you.  Or, with the famous lines from “Avatar” I see you.” And, I thank you for speaking with us this evening.

Breathe in with your pausing.
Reflect. Contemplate.

Then, ask yourself ---
  • What did these people say that affirmed my own values?;
  • What hopes, dreams and frustrations of my own did they bring out in this round table discussion?
  • What do I wish for next from these community leaders of good faith and intent?;
  • What do I wish from other citizens who are not so prominently featured tonight?
  • What do I wish from myself in order to bring this country and my community to its highest potential? In unity. Not divided.
The willingness to being radical by slowing down and talking (and listening) to one another to the extent demanded in “Overcoming Polarization” – to talk and listen to one another with the intent of going beyond differences is an exceptional way of being.  A way of being and the doing, with the actions that go with it that requires a certain kind of exceptionalism.  Way beyond mediocrity.
Those of us who are here tonight are capable of being exceptional, of doing that which is exceptional, of creating an exceptional community, beginning right here in Frederick. That quality of being and doing; exceptionalism, can, of course, ripple beyond and beyond our starting place here.
Our recent presidential election was a game changer in many ways. It upset what many see as outmoded, stale, dysfunctional ways of doing things, especially insofar as we manage our politics arena. But this is not really new news, it is, more, that this election – and its aftermath – have made dysfunctional politics and practices vivid beyond ignoring. We are, thus – on demand -- called now to change and improve our ways of working together as a nation, a locale, a town, or a community.

Now having, at last, passed beyond the day-by-day drama of that campaign and, now, being certain, at least for awhile, who it is that will be living at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue and leading our country in the role of president, we need to stop focusing unending attention on our politicians and complaining about all our various concerns and take a good look at ourselves, personally, and what our commitments are to be for the coming four years ahead, at least.
Look at what, we, individually and collectively, starting right in this room, right now can do to improve things in our neighborhoods, this town and, of course, affect the tone and tenor of this country in whatever ways we can.

We need to pay attention and be intentional about how the exceptional leadership we would like to see in the White House and in Congress  needs to, particularly, be lived out in our own personal day to day activities; our own exceptionalism. In particular, in the personal integrity we bring to each and everything we do. The walking the talk; the living our lives, in everything we say and do that reflects our highest values, in motion!
To illustrate my points, here, I’d like to tell you a brief story.

I made an extended trip to South America right after Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008. For close to two months, I lived among Ecuadorians who were, overall, intelligent, thoughtful, highly educated and articulate. During that time, we had many conversations, shared our views on many topics.
Returning, gratefully, back to U.S. soil, what remained as foremost for me, upon reflection, from those many enriching hours spent with new friends in S. America were the repeated questions I kept being asked about what it might mean for the U.S.A. to have elected Barack Obama to be our president; this man of color. Mostly I believe the issue of race was behind their questions.

No matter, arriving home not long before the inauguration, catching up on myself and the changes occurring, particularly all the excitement about the forthcoming inaugural events, the distance and the amount of time I was gone, prompted me to reflect on what this new president meant, now, to me and others too.

With all this going on, no doubt, given my many years as a researcher of psychological and sociological dynamics, my thoughts soon turned to wondering, not what this president would do for the United States, but what would the people of the United States do with having him in office.

Being a sixties person, the oft-repeated words of JFK were, of course, called to mind. So my thoughts went something like this: Ask not what this new president will do for you, but what you will do for this country, alongside of him. Not necessarily "him or her" being Barack Obama, but, I mean, anyone we would elect to the presidency.
Thus, within weeks of returning to the U.S., I found myself doing something I had not done for many years; designing a study through which my curiosity about this question and others that I came to associate with it would be answered. By the end of January, 2009 I already had my study ready to go and began the interview process, specifically in the D.C. area. The study was titled the Possible Human, Possible Society Study.

By spring, 2009, however, I lost interest in my investigation and put the study aside. Then, last year, in the summer of 2011, greatly distress by the debt ceiling debates crisis, I began wondering, again, about some of my earlier questions. I was angry by what I was seeing in our political leaders, simply in their character development and immaturity in human relations and their problem solving skills.
With my attention drawn, constantly, to media reports, I then began wondering, in a very new and heightened way, as I listened to the seemingly ceaseless complaints and distress of those around me, if we don’t want this kind of behavior in the leaders we have chosen, what do we want? And, what are we willing to do to change things?

At that point I took that study out of my files and started asking my study questions of anyone I could harness into talking with me. I wanted to know what people thought we might do, if they didn’t like what we had. What did they want of their leaders, especially, if they didn’t like how they were being represented.
And, most importantly, what was their vision of a healthy U.S.A. that does work well?

I also began asking questions such as what did they want of other citizens and, of themselves as citizens and parents responsible for raising healthy children into good citizens. Or, what they believed they might do as grandparents, or as respected elders of our country.
Wow! What an adventure this past year has been, conducting this study. The Study ofthe Possible Human and the Possible Society was officially launched, finally, January 1, 2012. It will be conducted through December 31, 2015.

It is one way I have of answering some of the questions I asked of you earlier.
  • What do you wish for, next, from our national and community leaders of good faith and intent?;
  • What do you wish for from other citizens who are not so prominently featured?
  • What do you wish from yourself in order to bring this country and your community to its highest potential?
 My answers to my own questions grow ever clearer to me, day by day.
  • I want to be exceptional in everything I say and do, especially in how I represent my integrity;
  • I want that of our leaders too;
  • I want that of you;
  • I want you to care enough about you and me to work together with me and others to help us all be more and more fully who we are, at our best,  and to contribute to those around us that we call community;
  • I want us to work through our snags;
  • I want us to find elegant solutions to problems, win win solutions, thinking outside the box solutions.
I pledge to offer whatever I can to achieving goals.
I hope you join me in these desires, at least some of them.
At least, begin with that one thing; being radical,  by slowing down and talking (and listening) to one another to the extent demanded in “Overcoming Polarization.”  This is an exceptional way of being. 
Slow down, talk and listen to one another.  And, tell your stories that are at the heart of your values and dreams.

And, of course, participate in our study;

And, participate in our New Horizons Small “Zones of Peace” community conversations to help develop the skill your personal exceptionalism requires.  
Thank you, Anastasia Rosen-Jones, December 12, 2012

1 comment:

  1. This is the best proposal and advice I have ever seen for the problems we face. I want to be part of the this solution.