“Deep democracy”: Calm conversations about divisive topics

samfloy~18 May 2019 /Advice

Last weekend I was in Italy with some people who have all done the same entrepreneur course I did a few years ago (though in different cohorts).

The format was:

I was describing it to my girlfriend and she asked whether it was “fun”?

The people in the group are all those who find that actively learning about new things is, in fact, an enjoyable way to spend free time.

Whilst it might sound stifling to have an agenda for who would be presenting what at various times, it’s a testament to the organisers (a self-selected group from the alumni) that it maintained a pleasant and relaxed feel the whole time.

Knowing roughly that person X is going to talk about Y means they have a forum to transfer some interesting things they know, rather than disparate, random conversations that may or may not happen from lounging by the pool. 

Gymnastics, time management, mental health

The sessions varied in topic and delivery but were all centered on someone teaching the group/ facilitating a discussion on something they were knowledgeable about.

This included how to (try to) do a handstand, thoughts on spending your time mindfully, and personal experiences on fostering a strong “mental wellbeing” workplace.

One of the principles of the latter being to “ask twice“.

Deep democracy

My favourite session was learning a methodology for conflict resolution.

The premise being that opinions are getting more and more polarised and nasty, and that it can be difficult to have a setting where you can listen to opposing arguments and empathise with their point of view.

It was used during apartheid South Africa and today is used to help resolve disagreements amongst groups who need to get along (e.g. workplaces).

The methodology works roughly as:

The result is that participants get to hear opposing views, and can acknowledge when they appreciate aspects of an opposing argument (by slightly moving more in that direction) without it being a binary thing.

More about the methodology can be seen here.

Loose structure guides people

Anyway, I thought it was a really interesting example of how establishing some simple principles can facilitate thoughtful outcomes, as opposed to a perpetual loop of both sides saying things in their echo chamber, and no notion of a resolution being achieved.

In the same way that setting a guiding agenda for different sessions meant everyone was able to effectively share what they were knowledgeable about, setting up an environment for good conversations means more useful outcomes are likely to come.


In other news…

I’ve got a few more days in Europe before heading back to Kenya early next week.

The slightly hectic Eurotrip is to be tied off with my good friend from university getting married in Scotland, which happens later today. Incidentally this will mean it’s a full set of visiting the six nations over the past few weeks.

It’ll be nice to return some sense of normalcy back in East Africa though, of course, it’s been great to take the opportunity to catch up with friends/ family who are still “back home”.


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