Tag: civility

Six Simple Ground Rules for a Civil Conversation

In this two-minute video, Craig tells a live audience about the six ground rules that we use at Make Shift Coffee House: 1) Speak from your experience, 2) Listen to understand, 3) Everyone gets a turn, 4) No one criticizes, 5) Neutral facilitation, and 6) Share with others. These rules were designed to help us navigate challenging conversations about strongly held political opinions, but they can also help us keep things civil in families, teams, organizations, and communities. Learn more about Make Shift Coffee House guidelines here.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video (speaking to a live audience):

In a moment here I’m going to ask one of you to put up your hands; I’m going to ask for a volunteer to tell us your answer to this question: “What’s right and/or wrong about how we handle guns in America?” And I might ask you a follow-up question. I might ask you, like I did with these folks, “Why do you believe what you believe? Where does that come from?”

As we have our conversation here, I want to keep in mind some of these typical ground rules that we have at these Make Shift Coffee House conversations:

  • We’re mostly about listening. As I said in the beginning, we’re not here to change each other’s minds on these topics. We’re here to understand the topics and understand each other.
  • I’m asking you to speak from your personal experience. I want to know not just the theory, the law, or even the science. I want to know why you believe what you believe.
  • We’re going to try to give everybody a turn. I’m going to ask that you raise hands.
  • No one criticizes. We are not here to blame, criticize, shame, or offend anybody else. That’s just not the purpose of this. The purpose of this is to understand each other.
  • I’m being a neutral facilitator tonight.
  • And the last one there says “Share with others.” And my hope here is that — after the conversation tonight — tomorrow, next week, next month, you will share with others what you learned here about how people think about guns but also the ways in which we had the conversation. I am imagining that we’re going to have a very civil conversation tonight. We’re already off to a great start. Watch how that happens and try to model and replicate these techniques in your conversations in your questions tomorrow, next week, next month. Share with others.

A Culture of Listening

In this video Craig explains some highlights from an essay that was just published called A Culture of Listening. Read the essay for yourself right here!

It’s an essay about a conversation among people with different histories, different values, and different interests. It has hidden lessons for civic dialogue and building community.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I just finished reading an essay, I want to tell you about it. It’s called, A Culture of Listening – restoring civic dialogue where lives intersect on the land.

This essay was written by my friend and colleague Amy Scott and a guy named Peter Forbes, her collaborator. Peter runs something called the Center for Whole Communities [Actually, Peter was the co-founder but doesn’t run it anymore. He is a facilitator based in Vermont]. Amy runs something called the Bethel Area Nonprofit Collaborative.

Bethel is a town in western Maine; lots of mountains and lots of dependence on the land for different things. You might say that Bethel is going through a transition; a long transition from a logging, forest-based economy to a tourism, recreation based economy. And these different types of uses of the land are often in conflict with each other. Amy and Peter convened a conversation in Bethel among people who have different interests in the land, different history with the land, and frankly different values.

They started this conversation not by identifying shared values. A lot of us who convene conversations among people who are different are apt to start with identifying things that we share, but in this case they realized that if they were to start a conversation around shared values that might actually alienate a lot of people because people might think that they don’t have the same values as the conveners and therefore not participate in the conversation.

So instead they began by identifying different values and accepting that different values are okay. We can think of things differently; we can believe different things and still the part of the same community and still build a shared future together.

Another thing that Amy and Peter did — which in my opinion is a little distinctive — they realized the importance of history. I want to read you a quote here. I might paraphrase a little bit but this is right out of the essay. It says, “A foundational step of civic dialogue is better understanding the land-and-people history and the social dynamics that have resulted from that history. Exploring and revealing history demonstrates active awareness of something that is real in another person’s experience and that’s essential to creating a welcoming context for civic dialogue.”

It’s like, “You know, if you had the same history that I have had, you would believe the same things I do!” By understanding each other’s history and by understanding the history of our community, we understand where our values come from and why they’re different and it’s not because we’re just bad people and don’t like each other. Our values are a result of our history.

The essay is called, A Culture of Listening and that’s because when Amy first approached Peter about doing the project she told him, “I want to create here in Bethel a culture of listening.” And Peter said, “That’s brilliant because listening is the foundation of relationships and relationships are the foundation of community.”

Thanks for listening.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

The Potato Salad Solution

It’s hard to disagree respectfully and come to peaceful resolution when we don’t know each other. Without understanding of where someone else is coming from, it’s all too easy to “make stuff up” about them and set ourselves against them. In this video Craig tells us to make a deliberate effort to get to know others, outside our meetings, as people – and how potato salad can help!


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. A couple days ago I was at a reception with Senator Angus King. Angus King is the Independent United States Senator who represents Maine and he told the group gathered why the United States Senate is so dysfunctional these days.

It’s very simple, he says: it’s because the senators and their families don’t live in Washington. They used to live in Washington, and Senator King remembers those days. He was a staffer to a United States Senator forty years ago, and he remembers that their families lived there. Their kids went to school together, they got together on the weekends and had barbecues and traded recipes for potato salad. They disagreed on the floor of the Senate, but they knew each other’s wives and husbands and children and they understood where each other was coming from.

Today, typically, the first vote on the floor of the United States Senate occurs about 5 o’clock on Monday afternoon and the last vote occurs at 5 o’clock on Thursday afternoon, and for those long weekends the senators leave Washington to go home with their families.

When decision makers just fly in for the meeting, do the business, and then fly out — whether literally or figuratively — it’s hard to deal with each other as people. It’s hard to express compassion and respect for people whom you don’t know very well.

We’ve run into this in my neighborhood. I live in a cohousing community that we started before the invention of email, and when email came along it damn near ruined us, because we learned that we could do business with each other from within our houses and not face-to-face. And we found ourselves saying things to each other by email that we would never say face-to-face, and making assumptions about each other that we would never make face-to-face. We have since learned to not do business that way; to contain the ways in which we use email and do as much as possible face-to-face. We deliberately work on getting to know each other and where each other is coming from.

It is especially challenging these days when many groups don’t even meet to do business face-to-face; we do virtual meetings. It’s even harder to get to know each other.

I’m just naming this dynamic and reminding us that it is very hard to come to peaceful resolution to disagreements when we don’t know each other as people; when we don’t have that extra level of compassion and understanding and familiarity with where people are coming from.

In this day and age groups that want to make good decisions make extra special efforts to get to know each other outside of meetings, away from the floor of the Senate or the boardroom or the community meeting room.

Trade recipes for potato salad. Watch baseball games together. Tell stories from your past. It’s pretty remarkable how that contributes to good group decisions.

I hope this is helpful. Thanks for listening everybody!