The Art & Practice of Civil Discourse

“I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience.  And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship.” Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise

At a time in our country when our differences in belief and opinion are dividing communities and families, many of us are wondering how to move forward and connect.  Civil discourse and deep listening seem to be lost skills.  Yet, the silver lining of our time may be that visible divisions motivate us into action. 

Democracy Circles, based on Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy, offer tools, insights and structure. Over the past four years, we have offered Democracy Circles in Montpelier and Shelburne. This fall we are piloting supporting a cohort of facilitators to offer them in their home communities around the state.

A Democracy Circle participant in Shelburne reflected: “What I am experiencing in this training is heart-centered reflection, sharing, curiosity, and exchange.  We can do that with people of any persuasion, and that encourages them to participate on the same level. Staying at the heart level is a way to heal our democracy and get to what really matters.”  

In August, twenty people from across Vermont (and a few from NH & ME) came together to explore offering Democracy Circles in their own communities.  We grappled with the skills it takes to initiate conversation across political difference.  Many of us are familiar with grassroots organizing and social action based on strong convictions and causes.  Open and respectful dialogue – well, it is not easy.  Finding ways to bridge the gap between beliefs is challenging territory.  It takes courage, commitment and practice.  And language that invites rather than shuts down – and that takes grace!

Parker’s Five Habits of the Heart are the foundation of Democracy Circles and essential practices for navigating daily community living:

  • An understanding that we are all in this together.
  • An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
  • The ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  • A sense of personal voice and agency.
  • A greater capacity to create community.

It is a long road facing us all but connections are cultivated one conversation, one step, at at time. Consider practicing the Habits of the Heart in your own community and stay tuned for locations and times of upcoming Democracy Circles on our programs page.

David Leo-Nyquist & Holly Wilkinson are Courage & Renewal facilitators and conveners of Democracy Circles in Vermont. They are excited to  be supporting others to faciliatate Circles in their home communities.