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Fostering a culture of respect in Minnesota

A new poll was released today by SurveyUSA/KSTP reporting that 52 percent of Minnesotans favor defining marriage as between one man and one woman. This survey result reinforces the reality that this is a highly divisive issue here in Minnesota right now. It is testing and will continue to test our capacity to maintain civil dialogue and civic vitality in the tension of difference.

As Minnesota progresses towards a November vote on this proposed constitutional amendment, we have been following the effort of the Minnesota Council of Churches, with support from the Bush Foundation, to help foster a culture of respectful dialogue statewide around this divisive issue. Called the Respectful Conversations Project, it's a commendable effort that has gotten press in both the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press since its launch in April. In the conversations we've witnessed, individuals who show up are hungry for a space to understand the experiences and deep-seated values of those with opinions opposite their own.

Promoted as an effort to "soften hearts, not change minds," the conversation model was adopted from the Public Conversations Project (PCP) out of Boston, Massachusetts. PCP first developed the model in the early '90s to hold conversations around the contentious issue of abortion and since has evolved it for use across numerous divisive societal issues.

As a constrained, yet effective conversation model, it encourages participants to speak only from their own experience; to share deeply of their closely held values, beliefs, hopes, and fears; to listen intently and to ask questions of "genuine curiosity." Here's a good cartoon depiction of the principles behind this conversation model. And here's a video clip produced by Twin Cities Public Television featuring The Theater of Public Policy, a local improv troupe, providing background on the guidelines for respectful conversation.

To learn more about the Public Conversations Project's model for facilitating challenging conversations, check out their Virtual Workshop and Facilitating Dialogue Guide.

To sign up to participate in a Respectful Conversation between now and October, visit: http://mnchurches.org/programs/RespectfulConversations.html

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