Personal Views

Robert Stains

Program Director, Public Conversations Project, Watertown, Massachusetts

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: When I'm doing public conversations work, I'm dealing with people who have ideas about issues, mostly that I care about, that I have very strong opinions about. So I'm going to be on one side or the other of many of the issues that I come into contact with. I have to be able to encounter people that I really disagree with and be able to respect them as deeply as I respect the people that I agree with. So that can be a real challenge making that human connection. Making the human connection, and not a once removed professional connection. 

I think that one of the things that I see when we do training, and we have people come into our power of dialogue workshops, is when folks interview people who are paying clients, they interview them as removed professionals who are there to gather information, and not as fellow human beings. So the capacity to be real human beings with folks, with appropriate boundaries is really important. The ability to keep your mouth shut, which I'm not exhibiting right now, but when I'm working I can, is really, really important. Also not necessarily facilitating, but being able to allow a process to go on. Being able to be really circumspect about your own language is of utmost importance, and that is all your language, your written language, what you say to people informally, online, when you're doing a dialogue. It is very important for people to be one top of those things. There are the professional capacities to lead a group and facilitate and so forth, but personally, I don't think those are as important. I think those are things are much more easily learned then sort of the heart and spirit and stance kind of qualities that are much more difficult for people to live into than the skill sets. 

Q: Are you very forth coming with your opinion about a particular dialogue? In other words, if you're doing sexual orientation and the church, do you come out and say that I'm for or against, and I'll be here in background, don't mind me. 

A: Never. We never speak of our opinions. Although we have had times where folks have done co-facilitation of abortion dialogues, and they've been pro-choice, pro-life facilitation teams, and its been identified that each of them represents- we say that this is a pro-choice, pro-life facilitation team. We don't say who's who. And frankly, nobody's ever asked. 

Q: No one ever asks you which side you are on? How do I know that you're going to be fair? 

A: People have asked me that more in advance, in terms of thinking about can we hire these people to do a job. They'll want to know where I stand as an individual, or where we stand as an organization, where our people stand. I usually say that, of course we're human beings and we cannot pretend to be neutral, because we have our own opinions and ideas, but we're also professionals. If you would like, I can connect you up to people on both sides of the issue that you're dealing with who we've worked with, and please contact them to find out if we're able to be fair, and ask them questions to your satisfaction. We want to be judged. We want to be judged on whether we're fair. That's the issue, not our personal perspectives on whatever issues are at hand. So that's how we deal with that.