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Florence Snyder: On faith in Florida’s public square

Editor’s note: Tomorrow we host Dr. Byron Johnson, author of “More God, Less Crime” at Faith, Food, Friday. In the beginning of his book, Dr. Johnson tells a pretty convincing story about how he was discriminated against in his academic career over his religious beliefs. The person responsible for bringing Dr. Johnson to town is the very Reverend Allison DeFoor (a close friend of the author) mentioned in this piece. The irony of that required a peanut gallery observation: Perhaps we’ve got ourselves in a bit of a do-loop, with aggressive behavior begetting aggressive behavior – lather, rinse and repeat endlessly? And perhaps it’s a cycle we could reverse? (more…)

Giving new meaning to the old adage “the elephant in the room”

Six years ago a group of liberal and conservative Tallahassee leaders – who somehow enjoyed enduring across-the-aisle friendships despite enduring political disagreement – started an audacious civic experiment. They were frustrated by the divisiveness of the political dialogue nationally and its increasingly negative impact on local decision-making. And they were nervy enough to think they could fix it.

“The experiment” is now called The Village Square, named after Albert Einstein’s reflection on America’s first nuclear energy debate: “To the village square, we must carry the facts… from there must come America’s voice.”

In the good company of Mr. Einstein, we were doing some Grade A wishful thinking when we decided to elevate facts as central to our mission. Facts, after all (and especially in the internet age), are ripe for motivated cherry picking and human beings are nothing if not motivated cherry pickers.

Using the central metaphor in Civil Politics’ founder Jonathan Haidt’s forthcoming The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, with a founding charter on facts, The Village Square had decided to talk to “riders” on their “elephants.”

Jon writes:

“The mind is divided like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant… The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.”

An encyclopedic volume of facts can drive any particular complex issue – hard for mere mortals (with children, bosses and a mortgage) to absorb. So instead, people make decisions intuitively (and based on others around them), then settle on a set of “facts” that support the decision they’ve already made. “The Righteous Mind” offers overwhelming scientific support for the driving force of “post-hoc” rationalization in our mental processes.

I now suspect our original conservative and liberal friends were unconsciously deluding ourselves that The Village Square would convince our wayward friends on the opposite side of the aisle of the ultimate correctness of our own political views. That didn’t happen.

Instead, in the process of rolling up our sleeves together in common work, we had accidentally put ourselves in the company of a very different group of elephants than our usual herd. That is what has changed everything – including (ironically) allowing us to be naturally affected by a broader range of facts.

Now when our “elephants” lean in the direction our minds choose instinctively – we choose a different direction than we might have without these new and unique relationships. Using Jon Haidt’s construct, in the process of aiming our efforts at what doesn’t work – talking to the rider – The Village Square stumbled on what does work: We changed the path of the elephant.

Jon on Bill Moyers earlier this month:

“…If you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason… wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other.”

Do we still talk to riders? Sure we do. Riders matter, as servants of the elephant. Riders need good ideas to talk to other people, and try to influence them. But the ingredient essential to our success has always been that we speak to elephants.

More soon on how you get 4 ton pachyderms into a room…

(Photo credit: Cody Simms)

Olympia Snowe on Washington

“I have made the decision not to run for re-election to the United States Senate and to pursue other opportunities outside the Senate that perhaps I can give voice to the frustrations that exist with the political system here in Washington where it’s dysfunctional and the political paralysis has overtaken the environment to the detriment of this country.” — Senator Olympia Snowe, (R – Maine)

Dr. Jonathan Haidt on Bill Moyers

Were there such a thing as Village Square homework (and there should be), this would be it. Conservatives, be sure to hang in for the whole the discussion; Dr. Haidt’s work is extremely validating of a conservative world view (and in a way that will help liberals understand you better, how much better does it get than that…) We believe Dr. Haidt is doing some of the most important work of our time. So get a bowl of popcorn and set aside 45 minutes. You won’t be sorry.

News from The Village Square

Read our newsletter online HERE. Today is the last day for for cheap lunch at Faith, Food, Friday!

OUR TOWN: It’s Your Turn to Weigh in on Local Issues

The Village Square recently launched our new “Our Town” project, and now we need YOUR help.  If you’re taking the time (and interest) to read this blog, than you likely have something to contribute to the discussion of our local issues.  We invite you to add good, factual (and civil, of course) information about local issues that most interest you in the “Get Local” Tallahassee section of our cool “We the Wiki” tool.  We’ve started a few sample issues for you already – red light cameras, utility rates, internet cafes – and encourage you to add to these or even start new ones.

How great would it be if this tool could become the go-to comprehensive guide on issues big and small in our town?  And you could give yourself a big pat on the back for being a part of it.  Voters, elected officials and community leaders could use this as a one-stop shop to get up to speed on important issues and make critical decisions based on fact rather than one-sided arguments, stump speeches or divisive rantings that have come to inundate the mainstream rather than remaining on the fringe.  But we need YOU to contribute to it – did we mention that already?

Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by all that our Wiki has to offer.  Just take it in bite-sized pieces, starting with one issue that moves you and adding one item that you that you think is critical to debates about that issue.  It could be a reputable, reliable source on the topic that you think people should check out.  It could be an addition to a pro-con list.  It could be an update on recent activity involving a current issue.  It could even be a brief op-ed expressing your (civil) opinion on the issue.

If you haven’t checked out our Wiki yet, what are you waiting for?  There’s no need to sign in if you just want to browse around.  And when you’re ready to add to it, just create an account and navigate over to the Get Local section for Tallahassee.  You’ll see that the content is fully editable by you (with the exception of some formatting and issues homepages), and the options are almost endless for incorporating the kind of solid information that people need to become better educated about the highly debated issues of our town.  There’s even a Tools & Tips page that’s particularly helpful for first-time users.  If you have trouble with the site using Internet Explorer, try switching over to Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

So, before you even have a chance to get distracted by goings-on on your Facebook page or who’s Tweeting what, click on over to a social medium with a real impact on our life – and Our Town.

Sunday at the Square: College & faith

This week presidential candidate Rick Santorum made a fairly audacious claim, were it true: President Obama wants to send more kids to college because he wants to indoctrinate them against faith. Santorum:

“I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country… 62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.”

One of my enduring frustrations driving the invention of The Village Square concept is the all-too-human tendency to assume we know the malevolent motivation of another individual we don’t agree with. Of course we don’t. Usually people at least consciously exercise good will, even if it’s shot-full of distortion, rationalization and self-interest (again, alas, all human).

Likely the determinative factor in Santorum’s decision to blurt this particular bit of hostile mind-reading out there is that he was on the Glenn Beck show… we’ve covered the subject of how like-minded company can twist and torque rational thinking (click here for C.S. Lewis on the topic). In this particular case this is – of course – just making stuff up, whether Glenn Beck was nodding his head at the time or not (studies show like-minded groups make stuff up too). (more…)

Boston University’s Robert Hefner at FSU tomorrow: “The Question of Islam and Democracy Reconsidered”

The Florida State University’s College of Social Sciences & Public Policy
announces a public lecture by:

Robert W. Hefner
Professor of Anthropology, Boston University

The Question of Islam and Democracy Reconsidered

Thursday, February 23, 2012
3:30 to 5:00 pm

The Pepper Center’s Broad Auditorium
636 West Call St. on FSU’s Campus

Sponsored by the
Ruth K. and Shepard Broad International Lecture Series

Parking available at no charge on the top level of the parking garage
located at the corner of Call and Macomb Streets.

Download a program flyer HERE.

Chris Timmons: Louis Armstrong’s life speaks to strugging youth

“It’s a funny thing how life can be a drag one minute and a solid sender the next.” — Louis Armstrong, in “Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans”

Louis Armstrong was a man of character. And that’s the most important thing about him. Granted, he was a genius, an impeccable composer of great hits and riveting trumpet solos. But his character was what made his genius work. Let me say from the jump: This is not some isolated, historically obtuse reminisce on a long-forgotten figure.

Always alive, always mortal, always there, because he’s multifaceted, a man to be studied, with much to be taken from his life; it holding complexity and simplicity in a pose of paradox. That maybe the most apt description of genius, which Armstrong personifies, or him. Whichever it is, it occurs to me there’s much for this community’s black teenagers to draw inspiration and purpose from in his early life.

Black History Month has its generic purpose, drawing attention to the lives of singular black figures, thus showcasing and celebrating the cultural contributions of black Americans. The month-long affair maybe archaic, a well-intentioned but still, poignant insult —black history being American history as its oft-said —and history being hard to pigeonhole in the first place. But it’s there, so why not use it. In this case, as a way of showing the enduring lessons a wonderful life, holds? (more…)

Great video: Social Media Revolution 2011

Hat tip to Knight Foundation Media Learning Seminar. Tomorrow’s session viewable by livestream online HERE.

Residents quiz officials at Village Square

If you missed Thursday’s “Our Town” meeting, you can watch it online HERE. From Friday’s Tallahassee Democrat, by Desiree Stennett (who also filmed the program):

“Men and women from all over Tallahassee and Leon County met at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Thursday evening with many questions but one goal — to talk to local elected officials about the day-to-day problems that affect them and their families. The Village Square held the event to give residents a chance to speak with city and county commissioners in an informal setting over pizza and soft drinks…”

Read the whole article at Tallahassee.com HERE.

Tomorrow: Alistair Cole at FSU on “Sarkozy’s Hyper-Presidency”

The Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French & Francophone Studies
& the College of Social Sciences & Public Policy at
Florida State University
announce a public lecture by:

Alistair Cole

Professor of Politics, Cardiff University

Sarkozy’s Hyper-Presidency: France 2007-2012

Tuesday, February 21st
5:00 – 6:00 pm

The Pepper Center’s Broad Auditorium
636 West Call St. on FSU’s Campus view

Sponsored by the
Ruth K. and Shepard Broad International Lecture Series

Download a flyer for the program HERE.

Liz Joyner: Reviving the town hall meeting

Published in the Tallahassee Democrat, February 15, 2012 There’s nothing more quintessentially American than a town hall meeting. It’s how the business of American community has gotten done from just about the moment the first disaffected European foot hit ground in the New World.

Even if you’ve never attended one, the town meeting is buried so deep in our country’s psyche that you can probably immediately call up its intimate details – rows of folding chairs, town council up front with only a school lunch table to define their status, a charmless but functional meeting room. Someone probably saw to it that there would be coffee and cookies. Overachievers might organize a potluck. (more…)