Today I want to talk about my Better Angels​ workshop’s last goal:

“Community Building: Organize social events in inclusive spaces (e.g., going to a show, potlucking in a park) that bring politically-opposed citizens into substantive, constructive discussions. Seek understanding without condemnation. Offer solutions. Meet, listen, discuss, repeat.”

To support this goal, I’ve gotten involved in the local discussion group “Common Ground Nashville​.” On the first Thursday of every month, a group of “politically-opposed” citizens eat dinner together and then talk about a political issue of local importance (e.g., guns last month, healthcare this month).

This experience is teaching me how hard it is to have good conversation with people I strongly disagree with. Before getting involved in Better Angels, I thought arguing was something people learned just by doing. Conversation is such a routine part of life, relationships, and especially school that I’d just assumed I knew how to do it.

However–in what should have been no surprise to someone who idolizes Socrates–it turns out that the ability to have good conversation is an art. Before I spout my ideas and criticize those of others, I need to think better about why I talk to people: what are my goals? What can a conversation actually accomplish? What types of tools may be useful in a school debate, but not in a one-on-one argument with a friend? When should I talk about my own experiences and feelings versus appealing to outside “facts?”

Answering these questions is hard, whether in theory or practice. Luckily, participating in monthly discussions at Common Ground gives me a place to try new tactics, to fail, and to try again.

How do you make space for “substantive, constructive, discussions” among “politically opposed citizens?” Do you think this is important? Do you have any recommendations for me? Please share!