Jacob Z. Hess https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/13952/all cached version 19/01/2019 20:05:01 en Are Mormons villains, or just people with a different story about their identity? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jacob-hess/are-mormons-villains-or-just-people-with-different-story-about-their-ident <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Church has declined to accept same-sex couples and their children as full members. What’s going on? Mette Ivie Harrison responds <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/transformation/mette-ivie-harrison/fear-and-discomfort-dressed-up-as-love-new-anti-gay-mormon-policy">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img width="460" alt="" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JacobHess3.jpg" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Brent Olson/<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/">www.Shutterstock.com</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p>As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have been mourning the recent loss of approximately 3,500 brothers and sisters from our community—people who <a href="http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2015/11/15/thousands-quit-mormon-church-in-mass-resignation/">stepped away earlier this month</a> in protest against <a href="http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/commentary-understanding-the-handbook">a new policy announced</a> by the Church. It <a href="https://www.lds.org/pages/church-handbook-changes?lang=eng">stipulates that</a> “adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council.” Neither can their children be baptized as Mormons if they live in the same house as their same-gender parents.</p> <p>“Something is broken,” <a href="http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kiwimormon/2015/11/something-broke-open-today/">one Mormon commentator writes</a>, “so terribly, terribly broken and I think it’s time that we named that brokenness...My hope is that we as the church will find the strength, the voice, the power and the fearlessness to claim the church back from the Upper Rooms [of the Temple –&nbsp; where the prophets meet]." </p> <p><span>Or as another observer said less poetically on social media, “This [decision] comes [not from God, but] from the raggedy old men that want to control everybody's life.”&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>For many people inside and outside the Church, this view is held without question—passed along as so patently true that it's hardly treated like a point of view anymore.&nbsp;Of course, something similar happens on the other side of the debate (that’s my side by the way), when religious conservatives place all of the blame for the conflict on ‘angry gay activists,’ as if they were hell bent on destroying religion itself out of a hatred for anyone who stands in their way. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>I don’t believe that. Neither do I see Mormons as monsters. Over and over, my experience has confirmed that thoughtful, good-hearted people arrive at very different conclusions about almost everything in the world, </span><a href="http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=276">including this new policy</a><span>. But this world is feeling more and more like a dystopian novel where people on all sides are pressed to see those who disagree with them as deficient human beings—as people who lack love, or faith, or both on a fundamental level.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>The problem with this dichotomy is that it doesn't add up—at least not for people (including me) who know loving and faith-filled people on all sides of this divide. &nbsp;In which case, what is going on?</span></p> <p><span>Welcome to what I call the ‘story wars.’&nbsp;Front and center in American society, an endlessly fascinating, increasingly intense conflict is unfolding between fundamentally divergent narratives—one woven around the primacy of heterosexual marriage, and the other woven around the celebration of different forms of sexuality and relationships. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Given the sensitivity of these questions, any critique or disagreement can understandably be experienced as a rejection of </span><em>people themselves</em><span>, as opposed to a rejection of the </span><em>particular stories</em><span> they carry about their identity.&nbsp; In this way, Mormon leaders are taken to be questioning who people are—making it easy to brand Mormonism itself as ‘obviously hateful.’ &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>If that’s what I believed was happening around the new policy on gay couples, I would come to the same conclusion. But I don't, because I don’t see identity the same way as my friends who identify as gay. &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints relish </span><a href="https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/restoration">what they call</a><span> the “restored gospel,” precisely for the new narrative it introduces about who we are and where humanity comes from. It’s a ‘re-storying’ of life that we embrace as a true reflection of things as they are. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>This includes a conception of God not as a vapor or an essence or an immensity filling all space, but as a literal </span><a href="https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng">Father and Mother</a><span> from whom all humanity inherits a “divine potential” at the deepest level of our DNA. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>No matter whatever else is faced or felt in life, the future possibilities of ‘growing up like Mom and Dad’ touch every aspect of life for the Mormon community.&nbsp;That’s why Mormons get married, enjoy children and family, and have an interest in sharing our convictions with the rest of the world. As one of our apostles </span><a href="https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1995/04/apostasy-and-restoration?lang=eng">has said</a><span>, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”</span></p> <p><span>Even if you think Mormons are dead wrong, maybe this will help you see how hard it is for us to ‘simply accept’ the identity of non-heterosexual couples as they see it. Barring further revelation from God (which many are admittedly hoping for), doing so would essentially require tossing aside some of our own cherished beliefs about God and the family pathway to becoming like Them. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>It might help to share an example. Indeed, rather than mere abstractions, it’s clear that these competing stories have very practical consequences.&nbsp; Depending on which of them is adopted, very different things follow in real life, with potentially painful consequences for </span><em>everyone </em><span>involved. In a recent conversation, one Mormon mother told me about her experience in watching her married daughter experience confusion about her gender, culminating in the decision that she is male or transgender. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Rather than simply accepting this as a simple reflection of ‘who my daughter is,’ she described her concern at seeing her daughter “planning to cut off her body parts and take hormones which will forever change her features as well as her personality.”</span></p> <p><span>After decades of seeing her child grow up, she expressed palpable grief in what she described as “watching my daughter prepare to 'disappear herself' forever,” while being told “that I must accept her choice.” She added, “I never realized how devastating it is to have a child turn themselves into someone so completely unrecognizable inside and out, to the point that they cease to exist as the person the parent always knew and loved.”</span></p> <p><span>What for one person might seem to be a disappointing lack of acceptance of ‘who this person really is,’ becomes from a Mormon perspective an understandable desire to </span><em>hold on</em><span> to ‘who this person really is.’ &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>So to me, it’s worth reframing the question like this: is it not okay to believe different things about who we are—or at least to acknowledge that fundamental disagreements about identity exist and are not going to go away?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>If so, then maybe we can start paying attention to the role of competing narratives in leading us to radically different conclusions. Take this vignette from a formerly Mormon-identifying parent who now identifies as gay:</span></p> <p><span>“Today I finally sat down with my two active, Mormon children to explain the new policy to them.” &nbsp;Both teens are active in the Church, and were unsettled at what the policy would mean for them, now or in the future.&nbsp;“My daughter just cried and cried,” she continued, “I feel lost and unequipped to help them.”&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Is the sorrow expressed in these stories the result of: (a) the larger story behind the church’s embrace of heterosexual identity as eternal and fundamental; (b) the larger story supporting the identification of gay and transgender sexual orientation as fundamental to who someone is; or (c) the clash between the two? &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>As satisfying as it might feel to call the other side nothing more than haters or heathens, we can and must do better. What if we got curious about this clash of the stories and started to talk about the space for dialogue it produces, without all the false binaries that paint either side as wicked:</span></p> <p><span>Are you loving or not? Inclusive or not? Committed to civil rights or not? Hateful or not? &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>By moving away from these mutually-exclusive categories, </span><a href="http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=140">another conversation might emerge</a><span> about what it means to be hateful or loving or inclusive, as well as the different ways one might express faith in God and support civil rights. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>While core differences may never go away, my experience of </span><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tracy-hollister/eating-hummus-with-the-en_b_6670096.html">this kind of conversation</a><span> is that powerful insights arise that reveal </span><a href="http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=249">fresh common ground</a><span>.</span></p> <p><span>But don’t expect absolute agreement. If that’s the condition for community or friendship, then we’d all better brace ourselves for endless ‘story wars’ over the horizon. &nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class="image-caption">Mette Ivie Harrison responds to Jacob&nbsp;</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/transformation/mette-ivie-harrison/fear-and-discomfort-dressed-up-as-love-new-anti-gay-mormon-policy"><span class="image-caption">here</span></a><span class="image-caption">.</span><br /></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jacob-z-hess/christianity-was-liberation-for-you%E2%80%94for-me-it-was-slavery-tale-of-two-ki">Christianity was liberation for you—for me it was slavery: a tale of two kingdoms</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jacob-z-hess/american-politics-beyond-angels-and-demons">American politics: beyond angels and demons</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation LGBTQ religion and social transformation Jacob Z. Hess Love and Spirituality Intersectionality Mon, 30 Nov 2015 00:30:00 +0000 Jacob Z. Hess 98011 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Christianity was liberation for you—for me it was slavery: a tale of two kingdoms https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jacob-z-hess/christianity-was-liberation-for-you%E2%80%94for-me-it-was-slavery-tale-of-two-ki <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Can religious conservatives be enlightened out of their convictions? If not, what are the implications? The launch of a new Transformation series on religion.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jacob Hess.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Shutterstock. All rights reserved.</p> <blockquote><p><em>“The Dark Age of religion is fading away, 'thank God'.” “Your bible has no place in modern society.”</em></p></blockquote> <p><span>It’s not an easy time to be a religious conservative. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) myself, I once asked a neighbor disgusted by religion: “Are you open to the existence of </span><em>any </em><span>kind of religious faith that actually benefits or uplifts people?”</span></p> <p><span>“Nope,” he replied—end of story. An analysis of online comments following the 2013 </span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Windsor">U.S. Supreme Court decision</a><span> to uphold gay marriage shows he is not alone: &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <blockquote><p><em>"This is a glorious step in removing destructive, discriminatory religious dogma from our personal lives."</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p><em>“The fact that people like you [religious conservatives] believe that they have some kind of superiority and greater insight into the human condition is repugnant.”</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p><em>"Your radical rantings are [like] the Taliban with their extremist views."</em></p></blockquote> <p><span>What is it about religion that drives some people nuts? Does religion (especially the conservative variety) </span><em>have </em><span>to elicit these kinds of reactions, or are there times when it can offer profound benefits to individuals and society? &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Answering such questions depends, first of all, on how ‘benefits’ are defined. I focused my PhD research on exploring conflicting views of the benefits of anti-depressants. In the debate concerning whether such drugs are effective or not, there has been surprisingly little attention paid to </span><a href="http://www.alloflife.org/assets/files/HessLacasse2011_MeaningofSuccess1412431562_original.pdf">what exactly is <em>meant</em> by the 'success' or 'effectiveness' of treatment.</a></p> <p><span>Likewise, in all the debate about religion and its influence in the world, there is less exploration of what kinds of benefits or societal progress we agree (or disagree) are valuable in the first place: what kind of changes </span><em>do </em><span>we want to see? What kind of community </span><em>should </em><span>we build together?</span></p> <p><span>On these questions, the differences couldn't be more profound—nor the commonalities more intriguing. In a </span><a href="http://www.publicdeliberation.net/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1067&amp;context=jpd&amp;sei-redir=1&amp;referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3Dfrom%2520culture%2520war%2520to%2520difficult%2520dialogue%2520journal%2520of%2520public%2520delib">study Nathan Todd and I published in the Journal of Public Deliberation</a><span>, we found striking differences between U.S. citizens on whether the preservation of Judeo-Christian tradition was seen as a net positive or negative in terms of societal progress. While conservative-leaning citizens typically saw maintaining traditional religious institutions as key, liberal-leaning citizens often saw an unsettling of these same traditions as crucial for change.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>What a difference! The very message that millions of Christians proclaim to the world as ‘salvation’ is experienced by others as a singular detriment to society's progress. As a liberal interviewee said to his conservative counterpoint in the documentary </span><a href="http://tothevillagesquare.org/news/purple/">Purple State of Mind</a><span>, "Christianity was liberation for you. For me it was slavery.”</span></p> <p><span>No wonder that secular and religious people often take up different socio-political issues with such a contrast in emphasis and intensity. For example, while I'm concerned with racism and think we should work to end it, I've always been struck by the fact that my liberal friends see racism as one of </span><em>the</em><span> greatest threats facing society.</span></p> <p><span>Why the difference? Am I just harboring some hidden bigotry in my heart, or might we simply be holding different narratives of the fundamental dangers that face our communities?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>I also value taking care of the planet, but with nowhere near the same passion as those who see climate change as an unquestioned catastrophe at hand. When this subject has come up in past conversation, I admit having often felt a bit defensive—sensing pressure not only to help take care of the planet, but to adopt a new ‘end-times’ narrative.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>As much as I agree with the value of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, this issue will likely never eclipse for me (or most other religious conservatives) what we see as greater threats to humanity—especially a kind of ‘social climate change’ that we see as incubating an atmosphere increasingly toxic to sustainable human relationships.</span></p> <p><span>One example is the ubiquity of pornography and the many ways we are finding this kind of media "kills love," </span><a href="http://fightthenewdrug.org/">as one organization puts it</a><span>. But this cultural toxicity goes beyond any particular behavior to a deeper dynamic at play: namely, where we are being persuaded to "</span><a href="https://www.lds.org/scriptures/ot/ps/62.10?lang=eng#9">set our hearts</a><span>."</span></p> <p><span>Let me explain. ‘Worship’ is often derided as something that crazy religious people do.&nbsp; On some level, however, I would argue every one of us adores </span><em>something, </em><span>trusts </span><em>something—and </em><span>literally worships </span><em>something.</em></p> <p><span>For religious people that happens to be God. If not the divine, however, then take your pick:&nbsp; Power? Money? Science? Reason? Food? Sports? Sex itself?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Each of these things will lead to a particular way of being and a certain kind of life. Whatever the details, compared to the generous, spacious, other-oriented kind of life that all great spiritual and religious communities aspire to, masses of humanity are being ushered into a narrow, narcissistic, self-absorbed life along other pathways of socialization. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>For religious conservatives, </span><em>this</em><span> is the great ‘catastrophe at hand’—the collective imprint on human hearts and lives from the emergence of a new 'kingdom' in direct competition with the one envisioned in the Judeo-Christian tradition. These competing 'kingdoms' invite people to work towards very different worlds, socially, politically and religiously—worlds that on some level are mutually incompatible.&nbsp; In the words of a progressive Christian friend, these worlds are involved in a "fight to the death."&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Ultimately, I think he's right: one 'kingdom' will win out in the end, many years into the future. But in the meantime, fighting isn't the only option. I'm convinced that we've got a lot to learn and figure out together, and I'm optimistic about the possibilities in that regard.</span></p> <p><span>For example, after spending more time listening to progressive friends, I've come to a place of greater empathy and interest regarding climate change. I haven’t altered my larger narrative of the world, but from seeing the depth of their concern, I’m more moved to action. After all, if they’re my friends, shouldn't I care about what they fear?</span></p> <p><span>Could this kind of motivation bring more conservatives to support additional efforts to take care of the planet, without asking them to check their worldview at the door?</span></p> <p><span>This kind of empathy seems to be in short supply these days. As one online commenter on the Supreme Court decision wrote:</span></p><blockquote><p><span>“If conservatives were truly interested in the impact things have on the lives of men and women, they might be more inclined to work toward universal health care, reducing income disparity, making education affordable, and ensuring that jobs with livable wages were created in this country rather than shipped abroad...Of course [these conservatives] are not concerned with our happiness."</span></p></blockquote> <p><span>What if we stopped questioning the hearts and motives of our political opposites simply because their actions don’t conform to our own narratives? What if we stopped trying to foist a new worldview on each other, and instead found places where our passions and fears overlapped?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Despite some gaping differences, there are some powerful things on which we might agree. And some of these overlapping understandings might also make for a more generous acknowledgment of religion's place in social progress.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>For example, don't most people want family relationships that last? And aren't lots of people from all backgrounds struggling to create and sustain these relationships?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>While explanations of family break-down vary widely, different groups might agree that it's not easy to be a loyal partner or parent in this world. There's also a general concurrence that children are often the primary victims, swept away into many kinds of toxic trajectories as a result of fractured families.</span></p> <p><span>Indeed, absent a compelling parental presence, the omnipresent 24-7 multi-media spectacle is happy to step in, providing children with its own kind of teaching in what the therapist Mary Pipher </span><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Shelter-Each-Other-Mary-Pipher/dp/1594483728">once called</a><span> a kind of "corporate colonialism."</span></p> <p><span>In this sense, particularly for families who are trying to counter-balance this relentless media socialization, a religious community that provides structure, support and a richness of teaching can be a veritable </span><em>God-send</em><span>. That, at least, has been my experience. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Length and quality of life may provide another point of convergence. In 2008, a 25-year </span><a href="http://www.scientificintegrityinstitute.org/prevmed2008lifestyle%26mormonmortalityenstrom.pdf">UCLA epidemiological study</a><span> found that active members of my own religious faith had the lowest death rates and the longest life expectancies “ever documented in a well-defined U.S. cohort”—at age 86 for women and 84 for men (6-10 years longer than the U.S. average). Other research has found a similar correlation between health, longevity and </span><a href="http://longevity.about.com/od/longevityboosters/a/religion_life.htm">attendance at church services</a><span>.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Before writing these correlations off as statistical quirks or figments of power and class, note that the UCLA analysis centered around four lifestyle patterns common to Mormonism:&nbsp; weekly worship, marriage, avoiding tobacco and extended education. The authors also pointed out that “The more strictly and constantly Mormons followed Mormon lifestyle elements, the longer they live.”</span></p> <p><span>If a drug were discovered that increased life expectancy by 6-10 years, how many people would be taking it?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Don't worry. We won't take this as another excuse to knock on your door. Most religious conservatives I know aren’t</span><em> </em><span>interested in dominating the government or "shoving righteousness down your throats," as another commenter on the Supreme Court ruling wrote.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>You know what we </span><em>really </em><span>want?&nbsp; To be welcomed as part of an ongoing conversation about the nature of the ‘good society’—and how to get there.</span></p> <p><span>Don't push us out, or assume we will eventually be ‘enlightened’ out of our convictions.</span></p> <p><span>Instead, let's talk.&nbsp; It's true that our deepest differences may not disappear with more dialogue. But maybe other things will: fear, disgust, anger?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>In their place, we might actually start </span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jacob-z-hess-joan-blades/can-you-change-world-from-your-living-room">enjoying talking with our political opposites</a><span>, and go on to discover surprising swaths of common ground between the respective ‘kingdoms’ we call home. &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jacob-z-hess/american-politics-beyond-angels-and-demons">American politics: beyond angels and demons</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/joseph-larsen/america%E2%80%99s-holy-alliance-is-ripping-apart-at-seams">America’s holy alliance is ripping apart at the seams</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/maia-duerr/can-religion-be-force-for-transformation">Can religion be a force for transformation?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Religion Jacob Z. Hess Religion and human rights Love and Spirituality Mon, 09 Feb 2015 01:00:00 +0000 Jacob Z. Hess 90346 at https://www.opendemocracy.net American politics: beyond angels and demons https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jacob-z-hess/american-politics-beyond-angels-and-demons <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In celebration of July 4, Independence Day in the United States, Transformation asks what lies in store for democracy in America?&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Hesscropped.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Sign at a Tea Party rally in Washington DC. Credit: Demotix. All rights reserved.</p> <p><span>"Barack Obama is destroying this nation" is how it usually starts. Then it goes on to health care, gay marriage, the economic stimulus, foreign policy or all of the above. The details of the political rant vary widely, but one conclusion is remarkably common:</span></p> <p><span>"And you know what? I think he's very aware of what he's doing. I think he </span><em>really </em><span>knows how he is hurting the country."&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>As a conservative who lives in a conservative stronghold of the USA, I regularly hear this kind of dinner table commentary. At the point where Obama&rsquo;s malevolence is mentioned, I can&rsquo;t resist stepping in by saying "I have to disagree with you there. I know </span><em>lots </em><span>of people who think like Obama - and all of them really do believe their plan is going to benefit America."&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>"What you might not be appreciating," I usually add, "is that Obama is coming from a very different story about the world than we conservatives do. And if you take that narrative as your starting point, it leads you to a very different set of decisions in terms of what is best for our country."&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>And that's where I lose them..."Hmmm...ok, thanks for sharing.&rdquo; (Translation:&nbsp; &ldquo;I still think Obama is a demon&rdquo;).</span></p> <p><span>My conservative neighbors are not demons either.&nbsp; Instead, they&rsquo;re illustrating something that&rsquo;s fairly common to most of us, namely this: when faced with intense disagreement, it&rsquo;s easy to see opponents as malicious, malevolent, or otherwise ill-willed. As my liberal friend Phil Neisser once said:</span></p> <blockquote><p><span>&ldquo;Many people think that the solutions to public problems (and the nature of the problems themselves) should be obvious to anyone who's reasonable, informed, unbiased, and well-intentioned. From this perspective, if all parties to a conversation are reasonable then the conversations should be easy, because most problems have &lsquo;common sense,&rsquo; obvious solutions.&rdquo;</span></p></blockquote> <p><span>Once we adopt this view, those who disagree with us are no longer simply reflecting a different understanding of the world.&nbsp; Instead, any difficulties in the conversation confirm our feeling that the other side is unreasonable, ill-informed, biased, and badly-intentioned. And why would you ever talk to someone like that?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>That&rsquo;s why I believe it&rsquo;s crucial that we pay careful, regular attention to the narratives that surround us.&nbsp; If we&rsquo;re not listening to the ways that distinct and powerful stories shape our experiences, then we&rsquo;re more likely to demonize, vilify and condemn our political opponents as ignorant or unworthy. That isn't the best way to start a relationship, let alone move towards collaboration and shared work together. &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Let&rsquo;s take an example.&nbsp; There&rsquo;s lots of talk across the world these days about helping those who are poor. Despite popular stereotypes, liberal, progressive and conservative communities in the USA all hold to narratives that value helping those in need. But exactly what that means in practice, of course, varies in fundamental ways. &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Conservative narratives famously pay attention to the importance of individuals doing what they can for themselves as part of the helping process.&nbsp; In our view, passivity, dependence and over-helping are real issues - with the potential to become even bigger problems than those we are trying to address in the first place. &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Although my liberal and progressive friends aren&rsquo;t necessarily unconcerned about these issues, they seem much less central in their own story of helping. Instead, their narrative focuses on the urgency of providing help - 'let's get people health care and get businesses back on their feet' - with less concern about the potential side effects of over-helping and dependence. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>The point is this: different policies make sense depending on which narrative of helping is taken up. Hence, President Obama presses for mandated health care and economic stimulus while conservatives scratch their heads in confusion.</span></p> <p><span>Political competition is essential in any democracy, but when deeper narratives are ignored, gut-level exasperation can quickly turns into unbending opposition: 'Why would </span><em>anyone</em><span> oppose universal health care, unless they are demons too?' Rather than trying to understand how a different narrative shapes someone else's experiences, we write them off: 'what kind of human being could ever believe in that?' &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>What would it mean if we really grasped the differences in our narratives and stories?&nbsp; Could it influence our ability and willingness to work together?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>I think the answer is &ldquo;yes.&rdquo; Take the large divide that exists around environmental issues. In liberal and progressive narratives, the impact of human beings on the earth's environment is often taken to be the biggest threat to human life.&nbsp; Discussion centers on ways to protect the environment in the face of economic growth. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>For conservatives, however, caring for the environment is rarely the first focus in our narrative, even though we </span><em>do</em><span> care about it.&nbsp; Instead, it is &ldquo;social climate change&rdquo; that we perceive as the biggest threat to human life &ndash; the shifts away from norms and values that we see as central to a healthy society. Without denying the potential of serious problems that arise from growing carbon emissions, avoiding future calamities depends for us on the size of our collective "moral footprint."&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>These differences are real and have to be acknowledged as the basis for any meaningful conversation, but the good news is this: once they are understood there is much more room-to-maneuver for compromise and collaboration.&nbsp; Most of the conservatives I know really don&rsquo;t want to trash the environment.&nbsp; Likewise, I've never met any liberal or progressive individual who advocates for more adultery in society.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Rather than grappling with an unbridgeable chasm between different human beings - the angels and the demons - we might enjoy exploring the contrasts in emphasis, priorities and moral vision that exist between equally-thoughtful and well-meaning people.</span></p> <p><span>Once we grasp this position, many possibilities emerge. There are many&nbsp;</span><span>surprising ways in which diverse citizens are talking and working together in the rough-and-tumble of American politics. For example, people with radically different views are trying to find some common ground through &ldquo;<a href="http://www.livingroomconversations.org/">Living Room Conversations</a>&rdquo; and other efforts to develop a different quality of political debate. America&rsquo;s military budget is being curtailed by <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/dini-merz/can-pentagon-be-tamed">unusual alliances </a>between liberals, conservatives and progressives. &ldquo;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/susan-clark-woden-teachout/slow-democracy">Slow democracy</a>&rdquo; is being modeled on the &ldquo;slow food&rdquo; movement which originated in Italy and France. And a Marxist <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/arthur-pe%C3%B1a/gay-marxist-meets-tea-party-in-california">decides to visit with the Tea Party</a>.</span></p> <p><span>The bottom line running through these experiments is simple: smart people with good hearts disagree about the nature of almost everything in the world.&nbsp; Once we embrace this reality, new relationships become possible. In particular, <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/who%E2%80%99s-afraid-of-partisan-politics">we can practice the art </a>of deep and vociferous disagreement while respecting each others' worldviews and backgrounds.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>What could that mean for potential political compromises, collaborations and the future of social change?</span></p> <p><span>Make no mistake - it could mean everything.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/welcome-to-transformation-0">Welcome to Transformation </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kristen-zimmerman/forget-empathy-%E2%80%93-it%E2%80%99s-time-for-radical-connection">Forget empathy – it’s time for radical connection</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/12-year-old-madison-kimrey-rocks-north-carolina-politics">12-year old Madison Kimrey rocks North Carolina politics</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas Transforming Ourselves Transforming Politics Jacob Z. Hess Trans-partisan politics Fri, 04 Jul 2014 07:00:00 +0000 Jacob Z. Hess 76514 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Can you change the world from your living room? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jacob-z-hess-joan-blades/can-you-change-world-from-your-living-room <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Americans with different political views may yell at each other but they rarely talk or listen. It’s time to revitalize a different form of political conversation. This is the third article in our series on trans-partisan politics.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Living-Room-Shot.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="http://www.livingroomconversations.org/">www.livingroomconversations.org</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p><span>There we sat: a Christian pastor, a Catholic, a Mormon and three atheists &ndash; six people with opposing views about hot topics in American politics.</span></p> <p><span>How did the room feel?&nbsp; Energized - no yelling, some laughter, lots of listening and a whole bunch of questions. But so what? Why is this scene even worth a mention?</span></p> <p><span>In the pervasive political hostility of contemporary America, many people have resigned themselves to accept that permanent division - an ongoing </span><em>absence </em><span>of productive conversation across political divides - is just the way things are. And little wonder. It's hard to find any venues these days in which those with different social and political views can actually meet each other, at least for anything other than head-on confrontation or festering mutual suspicion.</span></p> <p><span>When you combine the power dynamics involved, the media magnification of conflicts and the underlying influence of moneyed interests, it's difficult to imagine anything really changing between political opponents.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Until, that is, you sit with them in your own living room, bedroom, kitchen or whatever space you happen to have available.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>In cases where one system has become too powerful, community psychologists have long championed a subtle yet powerful strategy for social change. It&rsquo;s called the "</span><a href="http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4615-4193-6_15">creation of alternative settings</a><span>," broadly defined as "any instance in which two or more people come together in new and sustained relationships to attain their stated objectives."</span></p> <p><span>This can mean many things, of course: new community organizations, innovative agencies, or grand political compromises.&nbsp; But in recent years, small groups of people have been coming together around an even simpler idea: rather than learning about political opponents from a critic on TV, how about listening - </span><em>really</em><span> listening - to real-life</span><em> </em><span>neighbors or acquaintances that embody these views in practice?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>It's a simple idea, but potentially quite radical, and it's catching on.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Since 1992 for example, the </span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish-Palestinian_Living_Room_Dialogue_Group">Jewish&ndash;Palestinian Living Room Dialogue</a><span> has been taking place in California, sparking parallel initiatives all over the world. More recently, an organization called </span><a href="http://www.livingroomconversations.org/about/">Living Room Conversations</a><span> has begun to convene diverse clusters of neighbors for respectful engagement across a host of challenging topics. To date, conversations about &ldquo;crony capitalism,&rdquo; immigration, mental health, money in politics, voting, gay marriage, the role of government and energy policy have taken place, and many more are planned. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Here's how it works:&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Two friends with differing views agree to co-host a conversation about a subject on which they disagree. Each co-host then invites two other friends to join them. Those attending agree to </span><a href="http://www.livingroomconversations.org/">six simple ground rules</a><span> that are designed to ensure respectful listening, relationship building and a discovery of potential common ground.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>No training is needed - just some friendship and a bit of trust - but obviously things are rarely that simple. One problem is simply the accelerating pace of life, which continues to squeeze out time for conversation and community building. According to a </span><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/tv-digital-devices_n_3691196.html">survey released in August 2013</a><span>, for example, the total amount of time that Americans spend on using media of all kinds has risen to 11.52 hours per day. For digital media the figure rose from 3.14 hours in 2010 to 5.09 hours three years later &ndash; mostly spent on smart phones and computers. Increasingly, we interact with screens rather than with real people in our lives, and social media </span><a href="http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html">tend to attract like-minded users</a><span> to blogs and websites whose content they agree with.</span></p> <p><span>In parallel to this shift in communications, venues that used to provide meeting grounds for people of different social and political views have </span><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Diminished-Democracy-Membership-Management-Distinguished/dp/0806136278">declined dramatically</a><span> in the USA since World War Two &ndash; like schools and the national federation of Parent-Teacher Associations, other cross-class mass-membership groups, and non-profit organizations which increasingly act as service-providers rather than as schools for democracy. As these settings have become endangered and in some cases, extinct, it has become surprisingly difficult to find spaces for debate that are genuinely diverse so that no-one is left out. In this vacuum, the most privileged are left to dominate and speak for others.</span></p> <p><span>That&rsquo;s why Living Room Conversations are such a radical act in contemporary culture: to lay aside the screens, at least for a while; to allow yourself to sit with other human beings who you know differ from yourself in fundamental ways; and then to ask some questions, and hear what the other person </span><em>really</em><span> thinks.</span></p> <p><span>This kind of non-violent or compassionate communication can foster feelings of connection, understanding and empathy between diverse citizens.&nbsp; By revitalizing a different form of political conversation, it might even be able to generate new ripples of culture change.</span></p> <p><span>But there&rsquo;s a big question lurking in the background: can something like this really make a difference?&nbsp; Does what happens in people&rsquo;s conversations matter in the wider world of politics?</span></p> <p><span>To the surprise of many, in 2009 the Mormon Church publicly announced their support for a proposed Salt Lake City ordinance aimed at protecting LGBTQ residents from discrimination in housing and employment. What lay behind this action?&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>When church officials and LGBTQ leaders decided to hold a series of private meetings, they first considered the Church Office Building, then a coffee shop at the Utah Pride Center, and eventually settled on a neutral location - the living room of a couple in downtown Salt Lake City who had ties to both communities.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Mutual suspicion was rife in their first few meetings: "These were two communities living in the same town that just had no understanding of each other" said </span><a href="http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_13758070">Jim Dabakis, a gay man who was acting chair of the local Democratic party</a><span>.</span></p> <p><span>Over time, however, a level of trust and goodwill developed - along with a search for common ground. After organizing a series of &ldquo;kiss-ins&rdquo; in protest against two gay men being requested by Security not to publicly display affection on the church&rsquo;s Main Street Plaza, </span><a href="http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_13758070">former city councilwoman Deeda Seed</a><span> joined the conversations. &ldquo;What everyone found is that we really liked each other,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;there was a good rapport...It reaffirmed for me the power of people talking to each other - even if you have incredible differences. You start to see the humanity.&rdquo;</span></p> <p><span>We often assume that solutions to big problems must be complex and expensive. But is that always true? "By small and simple things," </span><a href="https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/37.6-7?lang=eng#5">as Alma in the Book of Mormon puts it</a><span>, "great things are brought to pass." Although sitting together in a living room or a kitchen may not sound like the stuff of transformation, what if larger collaborations and grander compromises depend on smaller ones? What if hearts need to change in order for other shifts to take place? &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>Call us crazy - but we believe that what happens in a simple conversation such as this could really make a difference. If so, what would happen if millions of citizens began to engage in this same, potentially radical act?</span></p> <p><span>Let's find out. &nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jacob-z-hess/american-politics-beyond-angels-and-demons">American politics: beyond angels and demons</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/dini-merz/can-pentagon-be-tamed">Can the Pentagon be tamed?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/welcome-to-transformation-0">Welcome to Transformation </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Civil society Democracy and government Ideas Transforming Ourselves Transforming Politics Joan Blades Jacob Z. Hess Trans-partisan politics Fri, 15 Nov 2013 08:56:59 +0000 Jacob Z. Hess and Joan Blades 76972 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Jacob Z. Hess https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/jacob-z-hess <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Jacob Z. Hess </div> </div> </div> <p>Jacob Hess is director of <a href="http://utah.tothevillagesquare.org/" target="_blank">Village Square, Salt Lake City</a>, a partner with <a href="http://www.livingroomconversations.org/" target="_blank">Living Room Conversations</a>, and co-founder of the mental health non-profit&nbsp;<a href="http://www.alloflife.org/#_blank" target="_blank">All of Life</a>—which recently released a free, <a href="http://www.alloflife.org/assets/files/Mindweather%20101%20Summary1422648668_original.pdf" target="_blank">mindfulness-based online class</a>.&nbsp;He also&nbsp;co-authored&nbsp;<a href="http://political-dialogue.com/#_blank" target="_blank">You're not as crazy as I thought, but you're still wrong</a>, and&nbsp;<a href="http://notfeelingit.org/" target="_blank">Once upon a time, he wasn't feeling it anymore</a>.&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Jacob Hess is director of Village Square, Salt Lake City, a partner with Living Room Conversations, and co-founder of the mental health non-profit All of Life—which recently released a free, mindfulness-based online class. He also co-authored You&#039;re not as crazy as I thought, but you&#039;re still wrong, and Once upon a time, he wasn&#039;t feeling it anymore. </div> </div> </div> Jacob Z. Hess Sun, 03 Nov 2013 22:09:30 +0000 Jacob Z. Hess 76515 at https://www.opendemocracy.net