“Brrr! It feels like winter’s arrived,” declared a jolly stranger, as I entered the Brooks Room in Bend’s Library November 7, 2018. An aromatic, eclectic, and attractive dinner banquet and two cheery faces greeted me, quite a warm and welcoming contrast to the “Brrr” comment airing in the background: my introduction to Bend’s fifth Community Conversation.
Community Conversations aspires to bring diverse locals together quarterly and spark purposeful conversation, uniting in a mission to keep Bend’s community strong by communicating and listening to one another. In this post, I will describe the group’s November 7 gathering, then share my personal take-aways.
Thursday’s theme, “Crossing the Divide: Listening for understanding with people possessing different political beliefs”, involved several thought-provoking exercises. First, we individually reviewed 26 value words and selected the three with which we most identified. Next, we shared our values with a partner, and finally, in six groups of roughly six, we identified our small group’s common values and then shared these with the full group. We discovered that we humans share many, if not most, core values. Five of the six groups cited “compassion” and “integrity” on their short lists, and “purpose” surfaced for four of the six groups as well.
Next, we regrouped in triads for a listening exercise. Taking turns, each person shared a belief, while another person listened for understanding--listening to simply hear--then paraphrasing reflectively--the other’s words, without judgment, problem-solving, interpretation, or reaction—simply listening with respect. An observer processed the reflection and paraphrase that the listener provided, reporting his/her observations about the conversation.
Finally, all of us formed a 35-person circle and processed the full session, including the following comments:
My thoughts, in conclusion.
Our humanity brings us together and tears us apart. We have so very much in common as human beings, yet our primal fears, emotional reactivity, and communication sometimes sabotage our best intents. This group of people all shared the desire to communicate across the divide, and I think it’s beautiful that in Bend, Oregon, folks are learning skills and practicing these to better understand themselves and communicate with those with whom they disagree. There is indeed a powerful magic that befalls when giving another person your attentive listening. The speaker feels heard, acknowledged, and validated as a human being. What we practiced tonight, attentive listening and reflection, are less likely to lead to conflict, and more likely to lead to learning and harmony. What more can we possibly hope to have with our fellow friends, family, neighbors, and citizens?
Susan served as a research faculty member in the College of Education’s Career Information System (CIS) at the University of Oregon for nearly 30 years, designing and training on the CIS career guidance system created at the UO and used nationwide. She maintains a small career counseling and consulting business amid her retired life. In her free time, she enjoys: bridging the divide, singing in a jazz choir, hiking the Cascade-Siskiyou Monument and the East Cascades, and spending time with her family. She and her partner Kent live half time in Bend and half time in Ashland.
Let’s talk! All over our country, people are responding to our political differences and racial divides by coming together in conversation and sharing stories. I want to talk about why I believe in holding Community Conversations here in Bend, Oregon. In future posts, we will share others’ stories about their experiences with Community Conversations.
Sharing Our Stories
I went to a conversation event the other day, but I couldn’t get into it. We talked about our political opinions, and we all agreed. Where was the life in our conversation? Where were the stories of our diverse pathways to a variety of viewpoints? This experience confirmed my belief that our own stories need to be at the center of a conversation, as they are the very things that help us understand and care about each other.
The Chosen Self
My story begins growing up in an East Coast, white, wealthy, conservative family. How did I get to be here in Bend, transformed into a liberal community activist, working with a multi-cultural group to create a Community Conversations project? Recently, I came across a surprising answer to this question, Edyson Julio’s story of his transformation. As a child, he created an essential survival self to meet the challenges of growing up in an inner-city environment, while slowly nourishing the inquiring and educated self he chose in order to fulfill his deepest desires and find success. He figured out how to hold both selves. As a teacher for youth carrying the survival self, this ability to hold both selves makes it possible for Julio to help young people find and create their chosen self, while retaining the necessary survival self. In coming to understand Julio’s story, Creating Another Self to Survive, I found greater understanding of my own story. I started looking at the original identity I created as a privileged, white girl – nice, polite, elegant, careful, anxious to please, peace-making, diffuse and unfocused, and deliberately powerless - yet confident that I could move anywhere I wished in the world and be welcomed. My chosen second self, as a leader in community-building, requires that I be focused, decisive, and visible. Yet, I can still hold to the kind politeness and quiet confidence of my original self.
My identity shift started decades ago, in college classes where I learned about other perspectives, and out of class when I volunteered for an inner-city, after-school program run by the Urban League of Boston. It continued throughout my life as I made friends with people of diverse backgrounds and listened to their stories, and it was nourished by my tentative steps into community leadership and collaboration. Eventually, I moved to Bend, Oregon, in a county where over 87% of the population identifies as white, non-Hispanic or Latino/a. Not only is our community not as diverse as we would wish, but we tend to be separated from each other in space and visibility. Many of my white friends say they hardly ever “see” people of other races and cultures. Likewise, we are divided economically and politically, finding it difficult to meet and engage in positive conversation with each other.
In 2017, a diverse group of friends and colleagues founded Community Conversations to create a warmly respectful and open space for people to come together from diverse cultural, ethnic, and economic backgrounds and different viewpoints to share and listen to our stories, build connections, and gain insights from hearing a variety of perspectives on community issues. We gather together around supper, and we talk about a community topic in small groups and all together, getting to know each other as we share our stories and viewpoints. We envision that Bend will be a community where people from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints have vibrant connections with each other, leading to collaborative solutions.
We invite you to come to our next Community Conversation, on the topic of inclusion, Wednesday, August 1st. This is a free event, including supper, at a public location in Bend. We promise that there will be room for us to safely share our varied stories. Sign up on our Upcoming Suppers page.
This article comes to you from Betsy Warriner, with thanks to Joshua Langlais for the Community Conversations photos.