Many of us are dismayed over the bitterly partisan political system in the USA and its inability to create broadly accepted and sustainable policies.

This is a poor harvest in spite of our collective efforts.

A Metaphor From the Midwest is a collection of Sarah Read’s writings from the Building Dialogue blog. It examines conditions and practices that have led to our current state and describes how a commitment by citizens to dialogue and more collaborative practices might lead to new growth and a more satisfying harvest.

An excerpt:

Weeding and Watching II (pp 12-13)

[W]e identified a number of weeds that are growing in our civic soil, including inconsistency and incoherence, deflection, distortion, and denial. So how do you weed? Whether you are a citizen or a facilitator, there are a number of tools you can use.

Key tools for addressing inconsistency and incoherence are to simply point out the gaps, seek to align rationales and principles, and use open-ended questions to guide discussion towards a more rational analysis. This might sound like, “I’m interested in understanding your thinking there. I’m not sure how X leads to Y.” Or it might sound like “If we were to do that, how would that help us [stated purpose], or further [core value]?” Or it might take the form of an observation: “I’m not sure why we aren’t worried about growing the deficit now when we were so opposed to that in the last administration. I would like to see some consistency in how we evaluate our policies. Are there principles or values we might use to guide us?” ….

Key tools for deflection are to stay persistent in your focus, to break up references to the “either/or” dichotomy and, when deflection takes the form of ad hominem attacks on individuals and groups, to #justsayno2mean….

A key question for breaking up the “either/or” dichotomy is to ask “can we talk about both?” or “what if it’s both?” For example, “I understand you are concerned that leaks are important, as is the interference in our politics by other countries. Can we talk about both?” ….

When deflection takes the form of an attack on others you can point out your discomfort (“I don’t like it when others dismiss us that way and I’m uncomfortable talking about my fellow citizens in that way”). You can also offer a positive observation or experience with the targeted individual or group, or reframe the conversation using the “Stories of Wisdom” patterns.

Key tools for distortion are to request and share sources, invite mutual analysis, and explore underlying emotions, especially fear. For example, you might say, “it sounds like we have been looking at different sources of information. Here is what I have read and I would like to know more about what you have been reviewing.”….

Exploring fear and anger is also a key tool for addressing denial. For example you might ask, “What makes this such a difficult issue to discuss? What do we fear might happen if it were true?”….

As with weeds in a garden, rooting out the weeds in our civic soil takes persistence as well as patience and effort. It’s up to us to change the discourse. Will we?