Civil dialogue among people with diverse interests and backgrounds is a needed but lacking quality within the United States. It’s just plain difficult these days to talk about anything important, not only at work and in organizations, but within families.
The League of Women Voters of Billings is committed to public learning programs, but wanted more tools for opening up conversations of concern to everyone.
Mary Hernandez of Invisage Consulting is a trained facilitator for “Gracious Space.”
Through a grant from Humanities Montana, seven other Montanans have also become trainers. A thin book titled “Gracious Space,” by Patricia M. Hughes with Bill Grace, has the subtitle, “A Practical Guide to Working Better Together.”
In a retreat with Ms. Hernandez on May 20, the board of the League of Women Voters of Billings explored how to “invite the stranger to learn in public.” All groups can appreciate and use the following ideas.
“Gracious” is described as generosity of spirit. Each of us has something to bring to the space; recognizing the gifts others have, as well as our own, is a first step. Knowing we can learn from others becomes an act of graciousness. That spirit of interest in others is what we bring to the space.
Setting up the space, the vessel in which we engage others, comes next. The space needs to be comfortable and safe for all. Being open to others, allowing them to come within our bubble, makes us vulnerable, so it takes courage to set the stage where others are free to speak. We develop questions so others speak out and we really hear, understand, and learn the answers.
With this gracious space, we are ready to invite the stranger, those who think/act/feel differently. It also demands that we recognize the stranger within ourselves, ideas that we have not felt comfortable expressing. The stranger is to be honored and valued for providing another perspective.
Finally, as we meet with the stranger within this gracious space, learning in public means letting go of what you’ve learned and what you think you know to enable the possibilities of new ideas. It means letting go of being right long enough to consider that things may have changed or may be different from what was previously known.
Creating a gracious space where we can invite the stranger in order to learn from each other in public is a valuable process by which we can promote the common good. It allows for creative potentials for diverse, divergent thinking and for the possibility of joining together in solving problems.