Democracy Lighthouse, Practitioner Mobilization, and More on Communicating with Friends and Family



Newsletter #248 — June 27, 2024



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By Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess

This post has four separate articles. Two are reader responses — one from David Eisner, and another from Ken Cloke — to our post Talking to Friends and Family about the Election. Both add important ideas that are useful additions to what we had originally posted. The third is our introduction to a new online resource called "The Democracy Lighthouse" which has been developed by our colleague John Keane in collaboration with and the support of the Toda Peace Institute, as part of their Global Challenges to Democracy Program.  

While these three items appear to be on very different topics, and in some ways they are, the Toda Institute's Global Challenges to Democracy Program is looking at the same sorts of challenges to democracy that we are looking at and have been writing about in the United States. Here, as elsewhere around the world, those challenges to democracy are also challenging families, as the affective polarization goes from the interpersonal and family level on up.  We have learned from our participation in the Toda program that these problems are not at all unique to the United States — they are being felt world-wide. The good news, though, is that there are people working on new ways of addressing these challenges all around the world as well, as is illustrated by the Democracy Lighthouse.

One more note we want to include here that relates to that last statement is that we forgot to put an announcement into our last Links Newsletter that we had meant to include about the "Launch Event" for the Practitioner Mobilization for Democracy Campaign, which will take place online on July 1, 2024 at noon Eastern time. A  bit more about that event follows.  


The Practitioner Mobilization for Democracy Campaign

This campaign is the brainchild of Duncan Autrey and Keiva Hummel, among others, who are working to pull together "practitioners of dialogue facilitation, community mediation, collaborative communication, and conflict transformation to support the future of democracy." On their website they write:

Our country is navigating significant tensions and societal divisions, and your unique abilities are needed now more than ever.

This campaign is your gateway to more effective engagement in the pro-democracy movement. It's about turning your skills into action, providing clear pathways for participation, and fostering a community of practice where we all learn and grow together.

​We are a unified coalition of individuals and organizations [including NCDD, NAFCM, LivingRoom Conversations, Omni-Win, Mediators Beyond Borders, and Dpace] who share a profound belief in the inclusive and deliberative nature of democracy. Now more than ever, our country requires the expertise of conflict-competent practitioners to navigate tensions and mend societal fractures. With the skills you have, your conscious participation in any democratic process will be transformative. Our mission is to ignite and inspire a diverse coalition of collaborative engagement practitioners to actively participate in revitalizing democracy and local engagement. 

We are delighted with this campaign because it is, in essence, a implementation of the call we first put out about five years ago, which we called The Constructive Conflict Initiative. That initiative called for "a dramatically expanded long-term effort to improve society's ability to constructively address the full scale and complexity of the challenges posed by destructive conflict. As part of that initiative, Guy and I, together with Sanda Kaufman, published an article in the Conflict Resolution Quarterly that urged conflict resolution and peacebuilding scholars and practitioners to have a "wide-ranging dialogue about how those with conflict-related expertise might do more to contribute to efforts to slow, and ultimately reverse, the hyper-polarization spiral now threatening so many developed societies." The Practitioner Mobilization for Democracy Campaign has been having that conversation for a number of months (Heidi has participated in a few of the discussions, but others have played a much larger role) and they are now going a major step further by initiating a call to action. We hope many of our readers will attend the launch event which will be headlined by renowned mediator Ken Cloke, and Joan Blades, cofounder of Living Room Conversations)

The Democracy Lighthouse

While threats to democracy are looming world wide, there is also a lot of effort going into understanding these threats and designing responses to them. Keeping track of these efforts  is, however, difficult because so much of this work stays "under the radar."  The resulting lack of awareness of ongoing efforts makes it much harder for those working in the field to take advantage of available opportunities to work together in more mutually supportive ways. 

In order to help limit this problem, the Toda Institute has unveiled the first phase of its new Democracy Lighthouse —  a "depository of information about the hundreds of organizations and networks engaged in reimagining, advocating and researching the past, present and future of democracy." The new site now contains a list of and links to the home pages of over 200 (and growing) organizations and networks "engaged in reimagining, advocating, and researching the past, present, and future of democracy."  The platform currently has organizations based in or focusing on six continents, including a number that are not actually on, but are studying policies related to, Antarctica!  (Also represented are Africa, Europe/Asia, North America, Oceania, and South America.) According to​ Toda Peace Institute Director, Professor Kevin P. Clements, the Lighthouse (and the projects that it makes more visible) represent a beacon of hope during this "period of mounting global anxiety and widespread political unrest about democracy’s future." Toda is actively encouraging other organizations to share their details and encourages all those with an interest in democracy research around the globe to explore the database and share the link with friends and colleagues.  We are also encouraged by the degree to which the Lighthouse demonstrates that the massively parallel peacebuilding process that we have been writing about truly is a global phenomenon.

David Eisner's Response to Talking with Friends and Family About the Election

This guidance on engaging across the political divide during this election — especially with the people we love — is another outstanding and important contribution, as is nearly every edition of this thoughtful newsletter.

I want to comment on the legitimate energy you put into lowering expectations of what might emerge from divide-spanning dialogue, including the reminder that people’s perspectives are more deeply connected with their life’s experience than with the flutters of the moment.

However, this analysis accidentally misses a different common result from even limited interactions with opposing perspectives: the overwhelming number of people who share that this experience is “transformative” and “life-changing.” EVEN IF it doesn’t actually result in minimal shifts in positions on either side, there is the likelihood that such interactions can still lower the toxicity of the divide — meaningfully and measurably.

I worry that it accidentally dissuades people from working to increase listening and trust across divides when we share only the limited expectation about changing positions or beliefs, without also sharing more useful expectations about opportunities to build understanding to lower the toxicity.

Ken Cloke: 50 Questions You Can Ask Friends and Relatives in Political Arguments

[Heidi's note: Ken starts this list suggesting that these questions will be useful after the election.  But we would argue that they are also useful now, as we approach the election.]

In the aftermath of the election, and as we head into the holidays when we will be talking with friends and relatives we may find ourselves disagreeing with, in addition to the substantive points we want to make, here are 50 questions we can ask to help make our conversations more interesting and productive.

  1. What life experiences have you had that have led you to feel so passionately about this issue?
  2. Where do your beliefs come from?  Family?  Faith?  Culture?  Work?
  3. What do you think your beliefs might be if you had been born into a different family, religion, race, gender, class, or time?
  4. What is at the heart of this issue, for you as an individual?
  5. Why do you care so much about this issue?
  6. Do you see any gray areas in the issue we are discussing, or ideas you find it difficult to define?
  7. Do you have any mixed feelings, doubts, uncertainties, or discomforts regarding this issue that you would be willing to share?
  8. Is there any part of this issue that you are not 100% certain of or would be willing to discuss and talk about?
  9. What questions or points of curiosity do you have for people who have different views?
  10. What are some of the key words or phrases that divide us?
  11. What are some of the key words or phrases that unite us?
  12. What are some “hot button” political words or phrases for you?
  13. How would you define each of those words or phrases?  What do they mean, suggest, or imply to you?  Why?  What experiences have you had with them?
  14. What emotions do you experience, or get triggered by, with each set of words?
  15. Do you think other definitions, meanings, experiences, or emotions are possible?  How?
  16. What do you think our conversation would be like if we decided not to use the words that divide us or trigger us emotionally?  Are you willing to try, right now?
  17. Even though we hold widely differing views, are there any concerns or ideas you think we may have in common?
  18. What underlying values or ethical beliefs have led you to your current political beliefs?
  19. Do the differences between our positions reveal any riddles, paradoxes, contradictions, or enigmas regarding this issue?
  20. What facts, if proven to be true, might cause you to think differently?
  21. Is it possible to view our differences as two sides of the same coin? If so, what unites them? What is the coin?
  22. Without discussing either of our preferred candidates, what principles do you believe the candidate you support stands for? Why are those principles important to you?
  23. What are your goals for this election, other than to elect the candidate you support?  Why are those goals important to you?
  24. How might we extend those principles and goals to this conversation we are having right now?
  25. What do these principles and goals require of us, in the way we treat each other, or how we talk to each other about the candidates we each support?
  26. What forms of political argument or support do you feel are ineffective, counter-productive, or encourage you to resist?
  27. What forms of political argument or support do you feel are effective, productive, or encourage you to think and learn from those you disagree with?
  28. What ideals or principles do you think both candidates share?
  29. What do you think will happen if our arguments or support become too adversarial or confrontational?
  30. How might we work together to prevent that from happening?
  31. Can you separate political issues from the people who hold them?
  32. Is there anything positive or acknowledging you would be willing to say about the people on the other side of this issue?
  33. Instead of focusing on the past, what would you like to see happen in the future?  Why?
  34. Do you think we are disagreeing about fundamental values, or over how to achieve them?
  35. Is there any way that both of us could be right about different aspects of the issue?  How?
  36. What criteria could you use to decide which ideas or approaches work best?
  37. What processes or ground rules could help us disagree more constructively?
  38. Would it be possible to test our ideas in practice and see which work best?  How might we do that?
  39. What could be done to improve each of our ideas?
  40. Could any of my ideas be incorporated into yours? How?
  41. Is there any aspect of this issue that either of us have left out?  Are there any other alternatives to what we are both saying?
  42. What other information would be useful, or would you like to have in order to address some of these questions we have discussed?
  43. What could we do to improve our process for disagreeing with each other in the future?  For encouraging future dialogue?  Would you be willing to do that together?
  44. Do you think this has been a useful and constructive conversation?  If so, how?  If not, what could we do better?
  45. What is one thing I could do that would make this conversation work better for you?
  46. Would you like to know one thing you could do that would make it work better for me?  Are you willing to do that next time we talk?
  47. What made you willing to participate in this conversation?  Why did you agree to talk with me, even though we disagree?
  48. What did you learn from our conversation?
  49. What would you like to do differently in the future if we disagree? How could we make our dialogue ongoing or more effective?
  50. Do you think it would be useful to continue this conversation, to learn more from each other and what we each believe to be true?


Lead Graphic Credit: Family dinner: Photo by Andrew Seaman.  CC BY-ND 2.0. Lighthouse from

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