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Julie Winokur: Civil Discourse Begins with Willingness to Listen

Calling on Conference attendees to set aside their own partisan differences, award-winning documentary filmmaker Julie Winokur, executive director of Talking Eyes Media, built on the pillar of restoring civility in American politics by sharing her experiences traveling the country and breaking down political barriers.

Winokur put radical civility in action by setting up a small table with a flower in familiar places and inviting people to sit down and talk politics with the goal of understanding their ideology. This project, which later became a documentary film called “Bring It to the Table,” was launched five years ago when it became clear to Winokur that hyper-partisanship was getting in the way of progress in Washington, D.C.

Winokur discussed the current political climate, how to best respond to others’ beliefs and talk across party lines about issues that matter.

Key Takeaways:

  • In the current political state, citizens and politicians are putting party before country, making government less about public service.
  • We are not witnessing problem solving from the top down in the current political environment, but rather we are witnessing obstructionism. In turn, the movement to restore civility in American politics needs to start from the ground up by engaging in civil political debate, and talking across party lines about issues that matter.
  • Ask, “What can I do?” Although we all may not be able to influence Congress, we can influence a small part of the world through community and family.
  • This is not an issue that popped up overnight or even in the past year. Civil discourse has been a problem for many years. The question is, “What kind of personal agency can we take to be more civil?”
  • To have a civil conversation on politics is to learn to listen or change the way you listen.
  • Approach a conversation by asking questions in the spirit of understanding the other party, as opposed to proving someone wrong.
  • Take a step back and think about what you are a subject matter expert on and avoid speaking with authority or authenticity on topics you are not proficient.
  • The least effective way to have a civil conversation is to treat someone like they are unintelligent or tell them they are wrong.
  • Transformation equals growth and is critical for the country to move forward.

“It is unacceptable where we have arrived, but this is not the end of days that we’re sitting in right now, this is the opportunity. Things must get bad to get better. This is that moment and this is your moment,” Winokur explained. “I’m going to ask that everyone here in the next week does a random act of civil discourse and approach a conversation that you don’t agree with your arms open and help me understand you attitude.”