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The Civil Conversations Project

The purpose of this week’s post is to point out an excellent online civility resource that we here at The Civility Blog have sadly previously neglected. It is called The Civil Conversations Project. And it is an extension of On Being — NPR’s radio program about the place of faith and spirituality in American life.

The Civil Conversations Project

Krista Tippett, host of On Being, has been speaking across the country about The Civil Conversations Project, and at one venue in Oklahoma she told audiences that what it is about, in the end, is finding a way to approach the questions we don’t know how to ask each other. It is about moving past the paradigm of tolerance, which does not ask us to engage, to understand, to be curious, to [be] open, to be moved or surprised by each other. And it is about having eyes to see and ears to hear as a critical discipline for the 21st century.

In more practical terms, what The Civil Conversations Project does is produce fifty-minute podcasts featuring public figures from Jonathan Haidt, to John Lewis, to Richard Mouw talking about their perspectives on social change through civil dialogue. Some of the podcasts address the problem of talking across deeply held ideological divides, like Frances Kissling on the topic of abortion. While others bring two speakers with very different convictions together to model civil dialog about an issue on which they disagree. One episode, for example, has David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values and Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution talking about same-sex marriage.

In each case, the point — in the Project’s own words — is to find ways to bridge gulfs between us about politics, morality, and life itself, and to do so even while we continue to disagree, passionately. Or, put another way, it is about modeling conversation and relationship with difference, and finding ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces.

The goals of The Civil Conversations Project resonate deeply with the Institute’s own mission to cultivate an environment in which we can claim and care for our own identities, needs, and beliefs without degrading the identities, needs, and beliefs of others. And they resonate with our own convictions about disagreeing without disrespect and listening past our preconceptions.

The Civil Conversations Project‘s podcasts do an admirable job of respecting thoughtful positions regardless of their politics, and of encouraging vigorous disagreement tempered with good listening. And as a starting point for sometimes difficult discussions, we would certainly recommend giving them a listen.

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