September13Report - page 8

September 2013 CBA REPORT
feature article
wo years ago, on the 10
anniversary of September 11
two prominent members of our
Bar, Tim Burke and Alex Triantafilou,
respectively the chairmen of the
Hamilton Country Democratic and
Republican Parties, issued a joint press
release suggesting core values that
both parties and all Americans hold in
common. Soon after, partly inspired
by that press release, a group of judges,
lawyers, and other
civic leaders formed
Beyond Civility:
Communication for
Effective Governance
org). They were also
responding to ABA
Resolution 108, also adopted that year,
calling on lawyers and bar associations
to take a leadership role in addressing the
problems of political polarization and
paralyzing modes of discourse.
In a September 2012 CBA Report
article about Beyond Civility I wrote that
in a healthy democracy, as in any healthy
relationship, it is critical that people
with different views be able to hear and
be heard by each other. We reported on
communication workshops for elected
and civic leaders, and described a plan
for Side-by-Side presentations in which
pairs of high-profile leaders would tell of
people and events that helped shape the
views they hold today.
Today, Judges Sandra Beckwith and
Timothy Black serve as co-conveners of
the Beyond Civility Steering Committee
in support of an expanding program to
address the civility goals. With several
initiatives now behind us, we’d like to
share some of the lessons learned.
First, we learned from recent stud-
ies in psychology and neuroscience that
people form what moral psychologist
Jonathan Haidt calls our “moral intu-
itions” early in life. These beliefs steer our
thinking and listening into and through
adulthood. They dictate whom we trust
and believe and what we accept as true or
false. As anyone who has tried to change
another person’s mind on a political or
religious topic knows, these beliefs can be
unshakable. To argue facts against them
is not just futile, but often counter-pro-
ductive. Only within rigorous disciplines
like law or science might facts ultimately
trump people’s preconceived beliefs.
So, how can minds be changed or at
least opened to different ideas?
From the four Side-by-Sides, we saw
the power of stories to build connections
between people. After our Side-by-Side
presenters described their families and
the people and events that shaped them
from childhood, audiences reported in
overwhelming percentages that their
most negative assumptions and attitudes
about the presenting individuals were
softened or even changed. While they
might still disagree with the presenter,
they thought they could more easily
have a productive conversation with that
person and would be more likely to listen
to what he or she had to say in the future.
Many were surprised by the change in
their attitude.
It seems these personal stories trans-
formed the presenters in the audience’s
eyes from political symbols to people
with families and influences and troubles
much like their own, opening the space
for empathy and enabling a more genu-
ine human connection.
In a unique event we
called a Back-to-Back, Repub-
lican State Rep. Lou Blessing
and Democratic State Rep.
Denise Driehaus bravely took
the stage at the College of
Mount St. Joseph to present
the opposing party’s posi-
tion on several controversial statewide
issues. This format virtually eliminated
the spin and emotion typically employed
to obfuscate truly debatable points. Each
presenter was asked to keep explaining
the other side’s positions and rationales
until the other said, “I couldn’t have said
it better myself.”
It’s hard to measure the true impact
of something like this, but the audience
reported in overwhelming percentages
that the reverse debate format contribut-
ed to their ability to “hear and appreciate
the different perspectives presented.”
More than 80 percent said they felt
“much better informed about the issues,”
and almost half said their opinions were
affected by the presentations. While
changing minds was not the goal, open-
ing minds was, and that appears to have
The Beyond Civility group now is
By Robert W. Rack, Jr.
Civility —
While changing minds was not the goal,
opening minds was, and that appears to
have occurred.
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