John Steiner: Civil Discourse and Village Square

Cultural Intelligence
John Steiner
John Steiner

Common Ground, Common Good

Civil discourse that doesn’t taste like broccoli

Neither a barrage of facts nor a sense of civic duty alone will make people reexamine their positions. As we’ve learned at The Village Square, civil discourse requires friendship, humor – and irreverence.

In the early 1800s, things weren’t looking particularly good for the American experiment in self-governance. Coming to Washington with differences of opinion natural to a vast new land, early legislators lived and ate in boarding houses that became entrenched voting blocs. Thomas Jefferson wrote that these men came to work “in a spirit of avowed misunderstanding, without the smallest wish to agree.”

Apparently neither human nature nor legislatures have changed much since.

Jefferson’s solution was to bring lawmakers to the White House in diverse groups for good dinner and conversation. Two hundred years later, The Village Square takes a page from his book when we invite politically diverse citizens to break bread at our “Dinner at the Square” series or “Take-out Tuesday” town meetings.

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