It’s not easy to discuss “hot” political topics without getting, well, hot under the collar. Dr. John Theis may have the solution, a series of programs he’s dubbed “Community Conversations.”
He’s encouraging Lake Houston residents to participate in “Community Conversations” on March 12 and April 24 at Kingwood Christian Church, 3910 W. Lake Houston Pkwy.
“We don’t talk to each other enough to understand why we disagree and what assumptions and values drive us to our opinions,” he said.
Theis is a professor of political science at Lone Star College-Kingwood and director of their Center for Engagement. He’s encouraging Lake Houston residents to participate in the series, joining with fellow Lake Houston neighbors in making tough choices and discussing difficult issues.
On March 12, the difficult issue will be “A House Divided,” and on April 24, the issue is “Keeping America Safe.” There is no charge and sandwiches will be served.
- ‘Community Conversations’ to focus on security, divisiveness -
These “Community Conversations” are based on a similar series Theis led for several years at Lone Star’s Kingwood campus and, a year ago, at Kingwood Christian Church.
“I asked people I know to round up 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans. We used a guide called the ‘Political Fix.’ It was a productive conversation,” he said, “and now I want to bring it into the community as a way to promote an alternative vision of democratic politics.”
Kingwood Christian Church Pastor Chad Mattingly enthusiastically joined Theis in supporting “Conversations.”
“We’re a safe space,” Mattingly said about his church. “Our vision is to be more than a building but a space for open-minded dialogues. Hosting ‘Community Conversations’ is another step for us to be recognized as a conversation center.”
Theis believes that most Americans are not able to talk through diverse perspectives.
“I hope participants will gain a better sense of what causes us to disagree with each other and where we have common ground,” Theis said.
“Conversations” will not have speakers or presenters.
“Participants will deliberate and make choices with each other about ways to approach difficult issues – like security and divisiveness – and to work toward creating reasoned public judgment,” he said.
Deliberative dialogues, he said, are an essential public skill, built on the theory that democracy requires us to engage in ongoing deliberation on public matters.
“This is the process through which differences are negotiated and group decisions are made,” Theis said. “Deliberation is not the practice of discussion for discussion’s sake but rather oriented toward reaching common ground and taking action.”
Each “Conversation” will be based on books from the National Issues Forum Institute that lay out a set of ground rules. Participants then will discuss each perspective so that they see all perspectives with an eye on where they agree and disagree.
The National Issues Forum Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting public deliberation about difficult public issues, encouraging communities to organize forums just like Lake Houston’s “Conversations.”
“At the end of the two hours, the small groups will each reflect on the themes they’ve determined, look for the next step, and report their thoughts to the entire group,” Theis said.
At the conclusion of the programs, Theis will survey the participants and send a report to the Kettering Foundation.
“My goal, then, is to schedule more ‘Conversations,’ one every two months,” he said.
“We have a ‘hollowed-out’ view of citizens as voters,” said Theis. “We’ve always approached our civic duty to just vote and then let our elected officials fix our problems. Frankly, I don’t think our elected officials have always done a very good job.”
He believes that those who participate in “Community Conversations” will find it to be an engaging and lively conversation on issues that seem to divide Americans and their politics.
“I expect participants will gain a better sense of what causes people to disagree with them and will discover common ground,” Theis said.
For those who would like more information about the idea of deliberation, Theis has developed a short video based on his campus work, youtube.com/watch?v=_DdjHCfgPjY&feature=youtube.
To participate in “Community Conversations” on March 12 and April 24 and become part of the solution, register at the Eventbrite website, eventbrite.com/e/deliberation-a-house-divided-tickets-55349490817 and at eventbrite.com/e/deliberation-keeping-america-safe-tickets-55349663333.