“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 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.