By Susanna Johnson, Oklahoma delegation
As we seek to find solutions in an increasingly polarized America, we present a series of posts examining the communicative issues and attempting to cultivate a nurturing community. Part one of the series can be found here.
The Better Conversations project began as a result of a devastating event that shook not only Oklahoma City but America. As Mayor Holt emphasized, the violence of the 1995 bombing had stemmed from one of the simplest aspects of our beings: words. The OKC Memorial & Museum believed that the community needed a foundational base from which we could learn how to use words for the well-being of others and ourselves.
“The Memorial created Better Conversations as a way for individuals to come together and discuss sensitive or controversial topics in a civil manner, ” the website explained.
It is true that the program helped to rebuild after a tragedy, but the intentions for its use lay far beyond just that season of life. In fact, the immense conflict within the last several years on account of the pandemic, political dissent, racial disparity, and much more seem to provide the perfect setting for these types of conversations. With social media use at a record high, healthy, face-to-face conversations may be needed now more than ever.
In an attempt to teach youth how to hold these types of discussions, Trustee of the OKC National Memorial & Museum Ann-Clore Duncan spoke at the Oklahoma YAG State Conference in February 2022. Not only did Duncan address the delegates, but she handed out cards with questions on them for each table to ask and answer. Questions included, “How does the expanding presence of social media affect your perspective on government?” and “How do we look past differences to find common ground?” The young politicians and their advisors engaged in this roundtable discourse, learning things about themselves and others in the process.
“We need better conversations now more than ever,” Duncan stressed in a recent episode of the Better Conversations online series. Real, raw, and valuable conversation comes from a place of vulnerability and genuine interest in what others have to say.
Better Conversations promotes six Grounding Virtues: Words that Matter, Hospitality, Humility, Patience, Generous Listening, and Adventurous Civility. To begin to heal together, we must put our differences aside and hold tight to those virtues.