The widespread engagement with the Ferguson crisis raises the possibility that the energies involved in such issues can be tapped for positive social transformation. In this essay I explore some of the current possibilities and resources for this in the realms of journalism, drama, and conversation. I also invite readers to participate in an exploration of the role of dialogue and deliberation generally in engaging the transformational potential of major societal issues.
Crises provide conditions in which the exchange of ideas, stories, and passion can promote positive change. Among the many modes in which that can happen are journalism, drama, and conversations.
JOURNALISM: Peggy Holman, executive director of Journalism That Matters, proposes the idea of “possibility journalism“. In addition to the traditional journalistic questions of who, what, when, where, why and how, she suggests that journalists also ask “What is possible now?” Imagine how the Ferguson crisis would be unfolding now if that dimension was added to news and analysis about it. Also, news commentators could explore the many deeply human factors playing out in this crisis. For example, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s family was deeply involved in local policing and his police officer father had been killed by a black man when McCulloch was 12 years old. What role did that seldom-noted factor play in how this is all unfolding – and what role should it have played? And I saw a truly remarkable essay by NFL football player Benjamin Watson articulating the many conflicting dimensions of this tragedy as it is playing out in his own consciousness and in the world around him. (While in his last paragraph he shares his belief that the answer to it all is the Christian Gospel, I am more inclined to believe that the Good News is that we can now use our powers of conversation and understanding to transmute tragedies and threats into blessings and transformation.) (As a PS here, I would also like to share the appropriately viral photo of an archetypal hug emerging from this crisis and invite reflection on the human longings that made it go viral.)
DRAMA: Benjamin Watson’s essay reminded me of Anna Deavere Smith’s multiple-viewpoint dramas about riots. In remarkable one-woman shows she acted out the actual characters and voices of people who played widely diverse roles in two major riots – the LA Rodney King riot and the Crown Heights riot between blacks and Jews. Her performances are lessons in empathy but even more than that. The human depth and complexity of the mega-story they tell helps drive us away from judgment into efforts at conversation and co-intelligence. I would love to see someone do a comparable drama about people involved in the events in and around Ferguson – from Michael Brown’s parents and friends to Prosecutor McCulloch and officer Darren Wilson, from the many protesters and supporters on both sides to the academics, journalists and politicians who have commented on it. In fact, I can think of no public event or issue whose wise resolution could not be greatly helped and humanized by multiple viewpoint dramas of this kind.
CONVERSATION: Sandy Heierbacher, director of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, writes “We’ve blogged about some of our members’ top resources for addressing racial conflict and inequity through dialogue and action at http://ncdd.org/15953…. If your community needs to have a conversation NOW, and you’re concerned that you don’t have enough time at this point to organize a dialogue-to-action project or a national issues forum quickly and effectively, I’d suggest you start by holding one or more Conversation Cafes. Conversation Cafes are super-simple 90-minute dialogues that anyone can host. They are great tools to use for rapid response, and in organizing a Conversation Cafe you may very well be able to find more people interested in working with you to organize a more in-depth dialogue process that can lead to collaborative action. Everything you need to host a Conversation Cafe can be found at http://ncdd.org/rc/item/92 or at http://www.conversationcafe.org.” I would add that Watson’s essay and Smith’s drama might be excellent stimulants for any conversation around Ferguson. And, in the spirit of Holman’s possibility journalism, we might also offer conversations exploring “What positive change is possible now, given the upwelling of energy around the Ferguson events? – and what role might we play in that?” (If you want to explore the art of powerful questions further, see the co-intelligence.org page on the subject.)
While the Ferguson Decision has understandably captured public passions, it is the tip of a very large iceberg of related issues – especially related to race and/or police – with long histories in America and elsewhere that feed the energy here and now. Truly transformational journalism, drama, and conversation can use that energy to stimulate transformational action. And action, to be truly transformational and sustainable, needs to embrace and transmute ALL the energies, not just those of one partisan side. This is because energies and voices that are excluded, marginalized, or not taken into account will find ways to disrupt any attempted resolution, one way or another, sooner or later. This is a primary reason the Co-Intelligence Institute promotes processes that include multiple perspectives and defines public wisdom as taking into account what needs to be taken into account for long term broad benefit.
Finally, I want to note that this understandable passion around the Ferguson Decision helps sideline issues like climate change, peak oil (and other resources), and the degradation of democracy, all of which have broad and dire implications for human suffering – and consequently profound implications for transformation. A new initiative – organized by Ben Roberts and Linda Ellinor with me as a thinking partner – invites dialogue and deliberation practitioners who want to explore ways to work in service to a fundamental shift in the human systems that many of us believe are generating multiple inter-locking crises and potentially “extinction-level” issues. We share a sense of great urgency and of grief, and also of the possibility for serving a “Great Turning” that might lead to a far different human presence on Earth. If this inquiry interests you, please join us online and on the phone for our initial exploration. We are hosting our first call on Monday, December 15th from 2-3:30pm Eastern/11am-12:30pm Pacific, with more to be determined. Register here for the call(s) and/or to participate via an online conversation space that is now open as well.
Blessings on the Journey.