My suspicion is that there is a deeply-felt, foundational public frustration that has perked to the surface in the election of President Obama…then in the Tea Party…and now in the Occupy movement. These examples are just a short list in the recent American experience…a deep, global frustration was very evident as well in many conversations when we visited Europe last month. We know this time in history is important, because we experience so many frustrations…and see so few easy answers.
Lots of different styles of conversations on lots of topics can bring many voices into the same space…but only careful listening will be able to discern a general course of action that everyone can live with. Right now, I’m most interested in framing and conducting some public conversations that might tap into non-ideological, visceral frustration about what I see as a growing trend toward greater wealth disparity and less wealth accountability. Some recent statistics verifies what many people already felt…our experiment in financial deregulation and loosening of campaign finance limits has dramatically accelerated the political advantages of the ultra-wealthy over the general public. Let’s approach this topic from many different perspectives…and then see what falls out as common themes.
I believe it’s a natural tendency to want to identify one part of a huge problem as the ‘silver bullet’…or to jump to solutions when faced with a sticky problem. It always reminds me of the famous line from the movie, ‘Casablanca’: “Round up the usual suspects!” While some of these conversations can be inspiring and helpful, I believe we need more creativity and open-minded research for these globally-entrenched issues. Our 24/7 infotainment news media is relentlessly looking for wedge issues…because they thrive on topics where they can put opposing, talking-heads in 90-second confrontations. Real solutions to complex issues take time…as the complexity is unraveled, and new approaches emerge that everyone can live with.
Yes…I’m hoping the dialogue and deliberation community will think-outside-the-box on this one. What’s more…we need a concerted effort by everyone in the wide community of independent researchers to step up into a wide variety of spontaneous inquiry-based research. My feeling about this mood of public frustration is that many voices are ready to speak…but these widely diverse voices are not to the point of deliberative work yet…they are still awakening.
So…I’m initiating some conversations with open-ended, question-centered starters, rather than position points. In our NIF-style deliberative conversations, we always spend some time at the outset with participants sharing brief stories from their personal lives…describing what their ‘stake’ is in solving whatever problem we’re discussing. Anyone can have an opinion about an issue…but only those who have a personal ‘interest’ or ‘stake’ in a solution will actually spend the time and energy needed in long-term problem-solving. Concerning our current public frustration…perhaps the best we can do is to ask our neighbors to share a brief, personal story about their ‘interest’ or ‘stake’ in reversing the trends toward a widening disparity of wealth and too-big-to-fail bailouts. After we’ve listened carefully, we may begin to see some common themes for future deliberative work.