It’s always good to chat with colleagues in deliberative work. Last week, some our California NIF Network folks gathered for dinner together…enjoying each other’s company, sharing the status of several deliberative projects, and brainstorming a list of issues we feel may inspire future projects. A meta-issue came up again in this list…it’s become a recurring theme: how to explore the tensions and trade-offs in the relationship between our individual rights and our shared needs in our communities, our nation and our world. We paused in our brainstorm to probe around on this issue a bit…mostly because it’s come up in conversations in the past, and because it’s still an unresolved big-picture issue. Since our gathering, I’ve done some additional pondering…so here are some expanded thoughts on this topic. How do we share what we see through our ‘windows’ on public policy decisions?
First off…I’m not going to get into all the critical-thinking implications of this topic…there are many, and they are intricately connected. Each day, we make hundreds of decisions…most are daily lifestyle, family and workplace choices. We can easily understand that we ‘see’ decisions through a variety of ‘windows’…individual likes and dislikes, needs and frustrations; family needs and fulfillment; work requirements and work-related learning. Things get a bit more complex when we expand our ‘view’ to include extended family members, neighbors, and members of various civic, social, professional and religious organizations. My interest here focuses on our capacity and our willingness to include a variety of ‘views’ in our conversations about public problems.
I’m thinking about how conversations go when we’re weighing various choices, preparing for a decision with a trusted friend or colleague…or when I’m just pondering by myself. This might not be your experience, but I often think and say, ‘Part of me feels this way…but another part of me feels differently.’ It seems natural to look at a problem…and its associated solutions…through several different ‘windows’ of perspective: ‘Here’s how the problem looks when I’m just thinking about my own needs’; ‘here’s how it looks when I’m thinking about my family’; ‘here’s my view when I’m thinking about my country’s stability’; ‘here’s how my views change when I’m including ecological sustainability in my view of a list of action options.’
Getting back to our conversation last week…this way of addressing public topics is different from our normal deliberative methods in preparing issues for small-group deliberation. In asking these questions, it seems we could better customize a deliberative conversation with the specific experiences, thoughts and feelings of the group. In NIF practice, some moderators probably already instinctively ask these questions. What I’m wondering is this: is this a conversation technique that can upgrade the quality of deliberation if it’s included consistently in our moderating practice?
On a wider basis…I believe all of our conversations can be more effective and fulfilling when we’re aware of the many ‘windows’ we each have for decision-making, community building, and relationship enrichment. Our individual rights and needs are always primary in our minds…but we all know that at times we choose to care for the needs of others, rather than just our own. When we’re aware of how that happens in our daily lifestyle choices, we may then become more aware of how it can happen more and more in public policy decisions. In daily conversations and in deliberative discussions, I think we can benefit when we’re willing to look at the problems we want to solve through more than just one ‘window.’