Over the past year, can you recall a time in which you got into a discussion about politics? Was it civil and constructive, or did it seem to escalate and spiral out of control? Or perhaps you just heard echoes of your own ideas. I’ve noticed, and perhaps you have, too, that polarized views, intolerance, insults, name-calling, judgment, and even violence, are becoming the new normal.
This has made it increasingly difficult for acquaintances, family members, colleagues, friends, and others to comfortably engage in any conversation that they feel might, even accidentally, spiral into issues of politics.
Due to this unfortunate and dangerous trend, Amy Cox, Director of International Peace and Conflict Studies at Arcadia University, and I are teaming up to embark on The Red and Blue Dialogue Project. In this project, undergraduate students from Philadelphia are colleges will be exposed to skills and practices that, when used, can allow for political discussions over to be healthy, productive, and respectful, rather than destructive and intolerant. Over the course of six sessions, roughly 20 students will use conflict resolution techniques such as paraphrasing, circle dialogues, constructive controversy, and collaborative exercises, to broaden and deepen their understanding of themselves, one another, and the collective.
Dialogue has proven to be a successful strategy in building trust and moving forward in many areas, including Israel, Palestine, and Sri Lanka. Though the research in these areas pertain to violent conflict and past injustices, we believe that utilizing some of these strategies and bringing this research to life into a different arena can help citizens develop empathy, tolerance, and the ability to engage in healthy discussion. Dialogue is a very effective technique that can be used to bring people together and manage group-level conflicts, and our goal is to help individuals develop understanding, empathy, tolerance, and listening skills in order to foster constructive dialogue in a divided country.