By Philip M. Hellmich, The Director of Peace
The political gridlock in Washington, DC is showing us that we must learn to deal with our differences constructively. This is one reason why the Summer of Peace and its predecessor, PeaceWeek 2011, have provided an overview of peace from the inner to the international, including politics and good governance.
One of the most inspiring interviews on practical ways of bridging political divides was with Rob Fersh, the founder of Convergence. Rob and I had worked together at Search for Common Ground in Washington, DC. At that time Rob was incubating Convergence. Rob had a passionate belief that there were good people in both Democrat and Republican parties. He also thought when you put good people in bad processes, the result was gridlock.
With this in mind, Rob and his team successfully developed systematic ways of bringing together a wide range of stakeholders to discuss complex issues. One dialogue, the US-Muslim Engagement Initiative, looked at how the United States could improve relations with Muslim countries around the world. The two year dialogue included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, conservative Congressmen, Muslim civil society leaders, former military professionals, Stephen Covey and other stakeholders.
Through the dialogue process, “unlikely friendships” were formed. The energy that normally would have gone into battling each other went into creative problem solving around common concerns. The result was a groundbreaking report: Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World.
The report was given to both then Senator Obama and Senator McCain in the lead up to the 2008 elections. Madeleine Albright later reported it was clear that President Obama read the report as he followed several of the key recommendations, including reaching out to Muslim countries in his inaugural speech.
This morning I received an e-mail from Rob. Here are a few lines:
We are in the fifth day of demonstrating to the world the huge costs of political gridlock. No matter where you stand on the current government shutdown, most of us agree that there’s a better way. This is fundamental breakdown in the ability of American leaders to talk with one another and find answers that work for the vast majority of us.
Although there may not be one simple solution to our current dysfunction, part of the answer surely has to be finding new ways for people who disagree to hear and understand each other in ways that lead to constructive action. Despite the histrionics and media hype, we know this is possible because this is exactly what we do at Convergence on multiple issues of national consequence.
Every day, Convergence convenes key leaders on contentious issues such as education, health, and caring for the elderly, so that we can prevent future gridlock and its repercussions. Our stakeholders are learning with and from each other, and discovering common ground that can move our country forward.
As old systems and ways of being fall apart, it is vitally important that we look to the positive new initiatives that are emerging. I encourage you to take a look at Convergence and if inspired to support their work. Meanwhile, here is the PeaceWeek 2011 interview with Rob Fersh to help shed light on how political parties can work together to solve complex issues.
"Bridging Policy Divides – A Consensus Approach"
with Rob Fersh
from PeaceWeek 2011
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This article appears in:
2013 Catalyst - Issue 17