How do you deal with someone with whom you passionately disagree?
Do you walk out of the room? Do you engage in “yeah, but” arguments? Do you respond with “I can’t believe you just said that!” Do you resort to insulting, name-calling and belittling?
Or do you look for a better way?
An estimated 75 local citizens did just that on Wednesday evening, as they became part of an informational workshop focused on The 3 Practices, a simple set of techniques developed by partners Jim Henderson and Jim Hancock aimed at bridging the differences that divide us.
The 90-minute session presented the techniques and then applied them to a real-life discussion of a local issue that has stirred debate in local communities -– affordable housing.
“We’re going for understanding,” said facilitator Jim Henderson. “It’s not a competition. No one wins, and no one loses. The goal is to understand what the other person believes and how he or she came to these understandings. It’s about how we can have big differences and still get along, trust, and even be friends with your ideological opponent.”
So what are the 3 Practices? Simply stated, they are guidelines that foster respectful discussion, and help us rise above our differences, find common ground with and gain respect for those with whom we disagree.
“When people like each other, the rules change,” said Henderson.
Practice one – Be unusually interested in others.
It’s about genuine curiosity and a sincere interest in understanding the other person. “Preface every question with ‘I’d be curious to know’,” advised Henderson. “Most of us learn to spot fake interest from a mile away,” he added. “We learn to recognize sincerity, too. And we’re drawn to others who genuinely seek to understand us. In the 3 Practices, we try to begin every question with the words, “I’d be curious to know….”
Practice two – Stay in the room with a difference.
According to the 3 Practices website, staying in the room with differences is what folks are increasingly avoiding as they retreat to the isolation of made-to-order social media echo chambers and narrowcast news media. While these may offer a safe place in the company of others who agree with us, while avoiding those who don’t, they inevitably foster division and widen the gap between us.
“Just because we voted for different people doesn’t mean we have to break up,” said Henderson.
Practice three – Stop comparing my best with your worst.
This practice acknowledges that not seeing something that appears obvious to someone else is not, in and of itself, a moral failing. By listening to another person describe what they see, we begin to understand that just as they’re not seeing what we see, we’re not seeing what they see. It’s all about accepting — and respecting — the fact that our answer isn’t the only answer, and just because someone has a different view, they’re not necessarily wrong.
“Resist the temptation to play ‘gotcha’,” advises Henderson.
Next Henderson called on volunteers to be the test subjects in a real-life session applying the 3 Practices.
“This is more like a game than a competition,” explained Henderson. “It’s like basketball. There’s a court, a clock and a referee — myself — who will blow the whistle when someone commits a foul like rolling their eyes or saying ‘I can’t believe you said that’ or some other communication killer. I guarantee that no one will get steamrollered.
“One person will start off and give a two-minute heartfelt opinion about the affordable housing issue in our community,” he continued. “Then everyone else in the circle will have 20 seconds each to frame a clarifying question staring with ‘I’m curious to know…’.”
With that, Henderson posed the question: “is it really our responsibility to accommodate affordable housing in our community?”
Bravely breaking the ice for the first two-minutes was Darrol Haug, who presented and explained in detail his view that the problem is rooted in income disparity and the fact that government strategies to address this are wasteful and inefficient.
Other participants then framed follow-up questions, all prefaced with “I’d be curious to know…”. Examples included:
“I’d be curious to know your views on what created the income disparity that’s responsible for the housing issue,” to which Haug responded with his belief that it’s rooted in inadequate training and preparation for jobs.
This led to the next question: “I’d be curious to know how teachers fit into this training argument. They’re highly trained, but are not paid enough to keep up with housing costs,” to which Darrol responded that we need to pay teachers more — met by much audience applause.
The next two-minute introduction was provided by Mindy Woods, who related her story of once having a place to live, but along with her teenage son becoming homeless after a series of personal setbacks including rent hikes and a landlord who would no longer accept her section 8 voucher and gave her 20 days to vacate.
The first follow-up question for Woods: “I’d be curious to know what affordable housing means to you?” — to which she responded that she couldn’t relate, since affordable housing is based on an $80,000 median income, much more than she makes.
Responding to the question, “I’d be curious to know what resources like church groups you used to find housing,” she explained that on her first day of being homeless, she called 50 different phone numbers of various agencies, churches and others. Only one organization returned her call — the YWCA.
Wally Webster provided the next two-minute introduction, identifying greed as the driver of the housing issue. “Today’s measure of success is how much money you can accumulate,” he explained. “This is just one way we’re reaping the results of greed.”
The first follow-up question for Webster was, “I’d be curious to know how you feel we can address this?” to which he responded that we need more compassion as a society, and that those who are more fortunate need to give back. In his view, much of the money that’s made today is not related to creating value in society but rather to making a few people rich, citing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as an example.
The final two-minute introduction was provided by Rob Smith, an Everett-based developer. While he is committed to building affordable housing, Smith said he feels that much more could be built if there were less government regulation. As an example, he pointed to past his efforts to develop affordable housing, which never got off the ground due to the crushing bureaucratic requirements.
A follow-up question for Smith: “I’d be curious to know if the regulatory burden were lifted whether big corporations would come in to make a windfall and build the cheapest housing they could? He responded it was his belief that developers would do the right thing.
The final minutes of the session were devoted to questions from the audience to the panel participants and comments on the event itself.
Many in the audience were clearly taken by Woods’ account of her personal struggles with homelessness and finding affordable housing. One audience member asked her, “I’d be curious to know if you believe those of us who are housing secure should subsidize those who are housing insecure,” to which Woods replied that she doesn’t think so, adding that “most folks are tapped out financially” and that money for this should be found elsewhere.
Moving to comments on the overall session, Henderson pointed out that the 3 Practices structure is designed so that no one comes away winning, and that the goal is not so much to solve the problem but to foster communication and mutual respect for differences.
Audience observations included that there’s more to homelessness than lack of a roof, and that mental health, addiction, health care and education are also critical components that need to be part of the solution.
One participant observed, “I could really hear what folks were saying. It wasn’t overly emotional, and there was no cross-talking. I heard real possibilities. Now I have people with whom I might disagree, but I really want to meet.”
Henderson then concluded the session by inviting all participants to thank each other and the sponsors who brought this to the community.
The next 3 Practices session is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 6-8 p.m. at Edmonds Community College, Woodway Hall Room 202. The subject will be “Racism: As American As Apple Pie, Or Not.”
The 3 Practices events are offered free to the community by sponsors My Edmonds News, MLTnews and Lynnwood Today, Edmonds Community College, the Campbell Auto Group, Jim Henderson Presents and the Tiny Company Called Me.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel