Political dialogue in polarizing times

Exploring the possibilities of civil dialogue

Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) Director and Clinical Professor Robert Bordone and HNMCP Assistant Director and Lecturer Rachel Viscomi recently participated in a Harvard University Facebook live talk on how to have a conversation about the election and other contentious topics without alienating your family, friends and people in your social network. Bordone and Viscomi are leading a reading group this semester for Harvard Law students on how to create civil and meaningful dialogue between those with differing and competing views on political issues.

“The challenge is we’re not having conversations,” said Bordone when asked what he thinks the problem is with today’s political debate. “We’re hearing a lot of people talk in echo chambers,” said Bordone. “And another thing we’re seeing is an avoidance around many of the hard conversations. People are talking about anything else to avoid a real challenging conversation around differences.”

Viscomi said one of the reasons they decided to take on this issue in a class is because of the challenges students face today in classroom conversations. Students are often afraid to share what they’re thinking or express different points of view “based on the concern that what they’re saying will be taken out of context” or end up amplified on social media, she said.

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Excerpted from Debating the Debates:

“Leadership is not simply giving an eloquent speech or having a good, substantive policy proposal, or being the smartest woman or guy in the room. It’s figuring out how to talk with people of different views, how to listen to those people, and how to find some common ground to do something with them even when we disagree,” Professor Bob Bordone in the Harvard Gazette. Read the full article.

The reading group provides participants with an opportunity to explore the possibilities and limits of sustained, civil dialogue on the most contentious political issues of the day. It also explore some of the reasons for the decline of civil conversation in contemporary American life.

As part of the class, students have the opportunity to engage in challenging, political dialogue on issues related to the 2016 Presidential election. These issues include U.S. immigration policy, race & criminal justice reform and gun control. The sessions on political dialogue are facilitated by students enrolled in The Lawyer as Facilitator Workshop.