Conference Attendees Put Civil Discourse to the Test During Interactive Session

During the “Bring It to the Table” interactive session with award-winning documentary filmmaker Julie Winokur, executive director of Talking Eyes Media, Mackinac Policy Conference attendees were tasked with learning to listen and understand the “other side.” With the same setup she used while traveling the country – a table and a flower – Winokur explained how although simple, it serves a distinct purpose.

Winokur invited an attendee to join her at the table and move the flower to the left or right to show where on the political spectrum he stands. She followed that up with asking why he felt he identified as conservative.

With a goal of listening and talking about issues in their nuance, Winokur asked leading questions with a notion of “tell me more and tell me something personal.”

“Listening is not just waiting for the other person to stop speaking,” Winokur explained. “I want to task you all with approaching political conversations with an ‘I want to understand you better’ mentality.”

After consciously listening to the attendee sitting across the table from her she asked, “What issues have you changed your mind on over the years?” Expressing that transformation is important and shows how as humans we evolve.

Following the demonstration, Winokur asked the audience to sit across from a stranger and try it for themselves. After identifying who would be the questioners and setting the flower, attendees partook in a table talk on immigration.

Prompts for questioners included:

  • Do you think there is a problem with immigration in America, and if so, what is the problem?
  • What have you personally experienced in terms of immigration – positive or negative?
  • How has your opinion evolved over time?

Following the activity, attendees expressed how the talk helped them understand why someone identified the way they do. The interactive session falls into the Mackinac Policy Conference pillar of “restoring civility in American politics.”

More from Julie Winokur at the 2017 Mackinac Policy Conference

Julie Winokur: Civil Discourse Begins with Willingness to Listen

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.”