Politics, Dialogue, and the Evolution of Democracy -- 20 Ways to Talk about Political Differences

Citation: Kenneth Cloke. Politics, Dialogue, and the Evolution of Democracy.  GoodMedia Press. 2018. From Chapter 3, pp. 71-73

Ken Cloke wrote Politics, Dialogue, and the Evolution of Democracy, which was published by GoodMedia Press in 2018.  It is a fabulous book, stock full of ideas about better ways of engaging in politics that will help save our democracy--and that of others.  While we obviously cannot post the whole book on Beyond Intractability, Ken generously gave us permission to post several sections, of which this is one. The other excerpts, and a link to the book's page on GoodMedia Press (where you can buy the whole book for just $24.95!) are immediately below. 

Buy the Book | Table of Contents 

ExceprtsIntroduction | Power, Rights, and Interests | Truth and Falsity | Meditative, Interest-Based Approaches to Political Conflicts | Power, Rights, & Interests in Political Discussions | 20 Ways to Talk about Political Differences, | Algorithm for Political Dialogue | Global Pandemics, National Borders and Political Problem Solving

This excerpt is from Chapter 3, pages 71-73.


How, then, can we discuss divisive political issues in ways that achieve these ends [preserving personal freedom and social responsibility, while re-examining ethical dilemmas through open and honest dialogue], preserving opposing truths and encouraging open and honest communication, learning and transformational syntheses? I believe we can work to achieve these goals by:

  1. Creating an atmosphere, attitude, intention, shared value andcontext of dignity and unconditional respect for each other, regardless of our opinions or positions on divisive issues
  2. Being sure to invite into the conversation people who do not agree with each other
  3. Reaching consensus on a set of ground rules or shared valuesthat can guide these conversations
  4. Agreeing to use skilled facilitators to keep the dialogue open, honest and on track, and skilled mediators to intervene if necessary
  5. Agreeing not to suppress anyone’s experiences, reflections,ideas, beliefs, passions or emotions, while at the same time focusing on the problem as an “it” rather than a “you,” and striving not to personalize disagreements
  6. Asking questions that do not have a single correct answer, andinviting everyone to offer their own unique answers
  7. Consistently coming from a place of curiosity and learning,and probing to discover the deeper meaning of the issues to each person
  8. Acknowledging and validating everyone’s deepest emotionsand ideas, interests and concerns, intentions and experiences
  9. Expressing gratitude and thanking people for their dissent anddiversity, for their courage and willingness to learn
  10. Breaking large groups up into smaller groups where everyonecan participate
  11. Sharing responsibility for group process and modelingopenness and honesty, empathy and compassion, listening and acknowledgement
  12. Asking small groups to select volunteers to perform importanttasks such as facilitation, recording, process observation, critique of content, presentation to other groups, timekeeping, etc.
  13. Stopping the process when it isn’t working, talking openlyabout whatever isn’t working, and agreeing on what each person can do to improve it, starting with ourselves
  14. Designing questions that will draw people on opposing sidesinto deep, direct dialogue with each other
  15. Asking people in small groups to brainstorm possible solutionsand present them to each other
  16. Reaching consensus on recommendations for personal andpolitical action, setting aside for future dialogue all points on which there is no consensus
  17. Seeking ways for people on opposite sides of an issue to agreeon specific, practical steps they can take to improve their communications and relationships in the future
  18. Inviting people to consider how they might continue andexpand the dialogue
  19. Applauding everyone’s efforts and acknowledging theircontributions
  20. Eliciting feedback, jointly evaluating the process and makingimprovements

For democracy to work, more advanced skills in conflict resolution, including informal problem-solving, consensus building, collaborative negotiation, dialogue facilitation, mediation, restorative justice, impasse resolution and what I think of as “the collaborative arts and sciences,” are increasingly essential. At the heart of all these skills is the realization, grounded in experience that people can disagree over important issues and not lose their capacity for human empathy and understanding.To do so, it is important to separate political forms of problem-solving from personal ones, and to rethink the nature and role of governments and individuals in any genuine, substantive, direct, participatory and interest-based form of democracy, where citizens do not merely vote for candidates (who will not, in an event, address the underlying personal or historical issues described above), but join together to solve social problems and make political decisions using collaborative, interest-based attitudes and behaviors, methods and techniques, skills and capacities, processes and relationships.How to do so in the middle of difficult and dangerous dialogues and courageous political conversations requires a deeper examination of the nature of dialogue and its relationship to the evolution of democracy, together with a consideration of actual experiences and examples using these techniques to design, organize and facilitate political dialogues and conversations, as described in the following section.