Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Breaking the Cycle: III - Congressional Opposite Day

Before we deal the cards, we shuffle the deck. Before we roll the dice, we shake them.

If we always kept the cards in the same order or laid down the dice to the same numbers, the game never changes. 


So in this third installment of game-changing ideas, let’s consider “Opposite Day.” In Part I, I wrote:


Imagine …the Senators/ Congress-people (paired as Democrat/Republican) discussed with their partners one of the bills on the floor. Each pair would then report back to the greater body, but speaking their partner’s point of view.


That idea deserves more attention. To begin with, mark one out of every five days in Congress as “Opposite Day” where we have to listen and speak in a different way. We— and here I mean all of us— so often speak from our fixed point of view and when discussing or arguing with someone who disagrees, listen to them only to find the points of rebuttal. Their words become ammunition to shoot down their “obviously wrong” ideas and the level of actual listening is low. 


On Opposite Day, opposing forces would partner up for a face-to-face discussion and whatever the issue at hand is, each would present their point of view following these rules of the game:

1) Each gets an equal amount of time to speak (agreed on beforehand) marked with a timer.


2) The partner listening may not interrupt or even ask questions (yet). Simply listen.


3) The partner is encouraged to shut down the argumentative voice in his/her head that is shouting, “That’s not true!” /”Yeah, but what about…?!” etc. Simply listen.


4) After each has presented, the other can ask some clarifying questions. 


5) Each now speaks back to the other the opposing point of view as they heard it. They don’t have to agree with it, simply speak it back as if they were in the other’s shoes and advocating for it. The other may interject clarifications or corrections. 


6) Each then reports back to a larger group  of 8 to 10 people. 


7) Each of these groups reflects on whether the process helped them understand more clearly their opposition’s point of view and from that place, begin to brainstorm compromises as needed. 


The key to the above or the children’s voices idea or the musical pre-talk experience idea is the a priori agreement amongst our Congressional Representatives that things as they are are broken and need a new perspective, that their shared mission to serve a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is the North Star guiding all conversation and that the determination to build an identity and maintain an identity based on the demonization of others has no place in the halls of Congress. In the “takes two to tango” model, those who refuse to dance are subject to impeachment.


So there you have it. My three ideas that are unlikely to catch hold, but nevertheless, are worth saying out loud. What are yours?


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