We want…and we need…public deliberation to be dynamic and 3-D! Our political and economic dilemmas are so complex and inter-connected that predictable and disconnected conversations just can’t keep our attention or inspire any confidence. Comfortable conversations with no edge to them won’t challenge us enough to learn from each other…nor will they provide us with the creative juices to find new out-of-the-box solutions to our urgent and important problems. We need some grand visions and powerful networking to bring the voices of all people into the public arena to thoroughly weigh the political options that will shape our futures.
Vacations are good! Not only can we be refreshed in our energy and renewed in our enthusiasm…but we can also learn some important lessons. My wife and I visited three National Parks during the past ten days…Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyons. Each of these natural wonders have been shaped by wind, rain, cold, ice, climate change, and deep tectonic pressures…to emerge as an artist’s masterpiece in progress. As I reflected on these amazing places, I realized they have some poignant lessons to teach us as we seek to find solutions to our most vexing public dilemmas.
Each of these canyons has been created by multiple forces through millions of years…the product of patient and continual attention. Each of these natural examples is unique in its own right…because each has experienced a different blend of forces through time. Zion is deep and smooth…Bryce is diverse and rugged…and the Grand Canyon has deeply and uniquely, carved elements. Just like our communities, our states and our country…our natural, economic and political environment is shaped through time by multiple forces…and it’s up to us to participate in this on-going process.
For our deliberative work, the Grand Canyon has the most dramatic message. At the ‘Geology Museum,’ I discovered that the Colorado River has been pretty much the same width for millions of years…its power has been applied almost exclusively to making the canyon deep. The rain and wind and ice, on the other hand, have shaped and reshaped the width of the canyon in unique ways along the course of the deeply-drilling river. Here’s my interpretation…for the greatest good, we need to drill down on our ideologies and values to discover what’s most important to us…but we also need to broaden our conversations in our local communities to discover how these basic political and economic beliefs uniquely affect our neighborhoods, families, co-workers and friends.
Yes…we need deliberative conversations that probe deeply into our systemic problems and values. We do have some identifiable dilemmas that are not only national but are also global. If we’re really serious about finding solutions to these deep problems, we’ll focus a lot of attention on the very basic, human trade-offs at work in our most challenging, recurring issues. We need highly focused conversations.
Yes…we need deliberative conversations that broaden our interest to include local consequences and benefits as national and global issues are being discussed. Politics is about making ‘big picture’ decisions while keeping local communities and neighborhoods satisfied with at least ‘enough’ benefits and services. We need locally sensitive conversations.
Yes…we need deliberative conversations that continue over a long period of time for really challenging dilemmas, so we can find the best mix of deeply-held values and locally-effective methods. Some issues require constant scrutiny and adjustment. We need to make a long-term commitment to on-going conversations about our most challenging dilemmas.
We want…and we need…a ‘Grand Canyon’ focus, local sensitivity and commitment on our most critical public problems. It’s not enough to be concerned about national and global issues. It’s not enough to be concerned about local hopes and consequences. It’s not enough to talk about the same issue for years and years…in the same ways. We need an outrageously dynamic, 3-D deliberative process for our most challenging dilemmas. And when we create and provide this conversation-rich, political lifestyle…we’ll be in awe of our sustainable and resilient, public landscape…and of our deep and wide, deliberative vitality.