National Conversation Project (NCP) seeks to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time. We love to meet others whose missions align with our own work, and were happy to have a conversation (had to say it!) with Jaclyn Inglis, NCP’s Partnership Director.
Tell us about National Conversation Project. What problem is it working to solve and how does it go about doing so?
Many of us sense greater division in America today than ever before, a reality confirmed by experts and data. Disagreement has become deeply personal, and it is getting worse. A promising solution is to ignite positive conversations across divides and among diverse opinions to reveal better solutions and new paths forward.
That goal is what fueled the creation of the National Conversation Project. The new National Conversation Project is built on the existing work of 200+ organizations encouraging conversations across divides. NCP is designed to elevate the mending of our frayed social fabric from under the radar into the mainstream. NCP will amplify existing conversation work while inviting many new partners and participants to join a movement of conversations in which we listen first to understand.
Why is this important to you?
I believe there is no way forward when we are standing still and screaming at each other. So we need to learn again how to move into the center of chaos and engage in conversations where we #ListenFirst to understand and learn from each other.
#ListenFirst is a response to what seems to be continuously fortifying divisions in the US, and a cultural paradigm of responding quicker with hate or vilification than with compassion or curiosity. The movement is built on the belief that, in order to most productively move forward, we need to recognize that the diverse perspectives of all who are affected by a problem could help fuel better solutions. Therefore, we believe we need to engage in conversations where we #ListenFirst to understand each other, and each organization in this movement is facilitating, engaging in, or promoting those types of conversations regularly.
Has the notion of discourse and dialogue changed over time? Is there something unique about this moment in history that makes this issue more acute?
I can’t comment on the situation before 2016; I simply became aware of the extent of this problem around the election of 2016. Just after the election, on social media, I watched as my own friends, those who fought so vehemently against hate, spewed it at people they had never met.
I luckily had a unique perspective on “the other side” and after the election, instead of pointing fingers, I looked inward, realizing it was my own naïveté that was the problem. And this could only be solved when I crossed divides—specifically into geographic territory I hadn’t cared enough to explore before—and engaged in conversation. But as I saw so many fortify their divisions and scream at each other from afar, I realized that engagement and conversation may be a critical gap in finding better political and cultural solutions going forward. And more than that, it was a gap that impacted our personal relationships, our work relationships, and our individual ability to learn and grow.
Where do you see promise?
Every organization that is part of the #ListenFirst coalition has endless case studies of positive engagement and conversations across divides. Every time I talk with a new partner, I am encouraged and hopeful for the future!
One great example from the 2018 National Week of Conversation was ListenFirst in Charlottesville where people from across the country came and spoke about important topics in response to the events that happened there the year before. The webpage that was created after the fact still shows the keynotes and conversations that happened as part of that event and I encourage others to watch—it was wonderful example of coming together for respectful and productive conversation after an awful tragedy.
What are three things that people can do to transform conflict or improve communication in their own personal relationships or as a society?
1) Engage. This is the hardest step—simply opening conversation or continuing conversation when there is disagreement.
2) Stay Humble. We can’t walk into these conversations believing we are the smartest in the room, simply trying to change minds. We should enter these conversations hoping to learn something new by the time they conclude.
3) #ListenFirst. In order to have the most productive conversation, we have to hear another person in their own words describe their viewpoints. If we respond with our own assumptions or without fully listening, we are simply talking at each other instead of talking to each other. Listening is a key component of any engagement on any topic—personal, political, or anything in between. Make sure to check out some tips on how to #ListenFirst!
The National Week of Conversation is April 5-13, 2019, and NCP encourages people to join or promote conversations by visiting www.nationalconversationproject.org.