Ep. 038: Robert Fersh: Finding Common Ground in the Belly of the Beast
"I began to see that it wasn't a matter of being a liberal or conservative that made you a compassionate person, you just saw the world differently. And so, once you have that veil lifted and you see the humanity of people, you can't stereotype them and dismiss one point of view..."
A main focus of this podcast is to explore the best process interventions that build common ground and consensus in diverse and often polarized groups.
But the reality is -- unless you are a process person like me – e.g. a facilitator, coach, mediator – you probably don’t pay attention to process.
Process is a little like plumbing: if it’s working, you don’t notice it, but if it’s not, watch out!!
I started this podcast because HOW we come together to resolve our differences has everything to do with whether we will be successful. If you create the right “container” with the right ingredients -- including meeting conditions, stakeholders, design (see e.g. Ep 22, Future Search with Sandra Janoff) – you will make significant progress in bridging divides that seem unbridgeable. I pretty much guarantee it. The climate you create is key.
So, that’s why, when Convergence and Rob Fersh came to my attention, I got interested.
A divide that currently seems unbridgeable to many, especially those living in the United States, is the one between the Democrats (the left) and Republicans (the right) in the US government.
Most Americans these days are pretty despairing at the level of polarization and acrimony in Washington. As noted by our last guest, Melanie Greenberg, the American legal system is "antagonistic by design" and, in Washington, a town with many lawyers, the predominant ethic is the adversarial model. To add fuel to the fire, we have a media that uses polarization and conflict to sell newspapers and a government that is spending $.57 of every dollar on the military. So, in my view, organizations whose purpose is to create a more collaborative climate are sorely needed
Rob founded Convergence in 2009 “to promote consensus solutions to both domestic and international issues”. Convergence has “mediated”, public policy issues where opposing sides agree on a goal but disagree -- sometimes intensely -- about how to get there. The organization creates “containers” that allow opposing sides to build relationships and think together more clearly about creative ways forward. To date, the Convergence model of "dialogue leading to action" has been applied to health care, education, incarceration, and other hot public policy topics such as gun safety and climate change are being explored.
Rob came to Convergence after serving as the U.S. country director for Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution organization. He also has years of experience working on the Hill for various U.S. legislators.
What I think will stand out to you, as it has to me, is the commitment that Rob brings to creating a safe and neutral environment for opposing sides to come together and think constructively about the best ways forward. “At a minimum", he says, "at a time when people don’t talk to each other well, the people that we get to come to our tables -- who are very diverse politically and otherwise -- have an amazing experience of seeing and understanding people -- and temperatures get lowered – and, at the best end, we are having a real impact on the issues we care about." As he notes, when you create a good climate, people stop the demonization, trust builds, and it’s even possible to create solid and lasting relationships though people may still disagree on a number of issues.
So, I invite you to tune in and hear Rob’s stories. Get inspired. It will give you hope that we can find common ground in the belly of the beast.
Find his bio and show notes here.
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