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Here's a gentle action that might change the frame for congresspeople and congressional staffs regarding sexual assault — that I hope could work well in conservative districts:

Just a few people could easily recreate this at a townhall meeting, perhaps when people are taking their seats before the speaker is ready to go, or get mobile butcher-paper easel to take notes and ask people to participate while they are bored in line waiting to get in.

Personally, (just my opinion, other ideas welcome!) I don’t think it’s helpful to make it explicitly about Kavanaugh: this is a first step that sets the frame, remind people of what is real. If you have a hostile Senator, this might be a way to connect with female staff or supporters. Stir up thoughts with this exercise, work the crowd trying active listening and especially (especially if in a conservative district) encourage people to keep talking until they talk past their bullet points.


The exercise below has been making the rounds on facebook. I find it illuminating, and think that re-creating it at political events might expand understanding. See the action idea to the right, and let me know if you try it.
What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?
“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.

Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they've been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, 'I stay out of prison.' This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, 'Nothing. I don't think about it.'

Then I ask women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine. Here are some of their answers: Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don't go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don't put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man's voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don't use parking garages. Don't get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don't use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don't wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don't take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don't make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”


― Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help


Stephen Mon, 10/01/2018 - 21:39

Politics today are described as "tribal" — most people start with their allegiances and judge or filter each fact based on those allegiances.

Image of judge's scales: a lifetime of beliefs heavy on one side, one fact on the other

When we encounter a single news story, a single fact — say a veteran having their adopted child torn away over a technicality, or a supreme court justice lying under oath — many people stick with their party lines. The fact, so troubling to the other tribe, just bounces right off their filters: "I don't want to think about this for long, since it threatens my team."

The response by political opponents to this filtering is astonishment and judgment. Which is pretty powerless: pointing out someone's hypocrisy doesn't take away their right to vote. We desire that our opponents see this fact, and switch to our team. We remember this fact with all the others that support our side — they filter it away.

If you want to be effective, you can't make big changes quickly. One fact can't tear down many years' worth of allegiances, and if you try, you just harden people's defenses.

You want to get people to judge politicians based on the facts, rather than judge facts based on politics. This means letting go: if the end of a conversation requires a shift in loyalty, it's too much, and your conversation accomplishes nothing but giving them practice raising their shields. SELF-CHECK: The scales won't move. If you hope the scales will move, you'll probably undo your own efforts.


How can you set a smaller goal: What techniques make facts sticky? How do you keep people focused on the facts, instead of jumping to a judgment that will be based on their allegiances?

Image of judges scales: a single small fact on one side, nothing on the other

Two techniques that work well:

1) Nonviolent Communication (NVC) recommends ending conversations with a request. Most political conversations have an implied request: tell me I'm right, give up all your beliefs and accept my beliefs instead. Not surprisingly, this fails — and leads us to say "facts don't work." But facts that don't require judgment can work. Do you have a tear-jerking story of a child who grew up American, and is being sent to a country where they don't know the language? Don't scream about Trump: don't put Trump on the scales at all. Instead, ask the conservatives in your life if they'd like to work with you to right this wrong.

2) Let people talk past their talking points. Lots of people like to talk if you listen. Lots of people have good hearts. Lots of people have heartless partisan soundbites. They will keep talking past their soundbites and remember their hearts, if they feel heard instead of judged.

Stephen Mon, 10/01/2018 - 15:13
Imagine your position as a fortress, and solid counter-arguments are cannons. A "Gish Gallop" is like bringing automatic tennis ball launcher a quarter mile from the walls of the fortress and turning it on. The defender comes out and whacks the tennis balls away. No chunks are torn from the walls of the fortress. But to anyone watching, it sure looks like the attacker is wearing out the defender; with so many points, some must be true? In politics today, the Gish Gallop is used most often on climate change. The reason that almost all the world's scientists are wildly wrong changes from moment to moment and post to post, but there are always many reasons. It is a challenging tactic to counter. I think the best techniques should aim to slow the conversation down. In the analogy, keep your eye on the first ball. Don't hit the ball away, see where it lands: ask them follow-up questions, get them to keep expounding.
Stephen Sat, 09/08/2018 - 21:23

First draft -- Help me write this!

There is a bit of noise on the internet about civility:

Personally, I think that the options that fall under "civility" are usually the right choice, and name-calling almost always counter-productive.

I'm not sure what our frame should be; it's not as simple, not a binary. I think groups that want Gandhi or King style resistance should be exploring ways to get us out of the civility-incivility frame. It might be best expressed with a graphic, something that we can dump into all the articles.

Let's look at war, where people often takes things seriously: In war, you want to know your enemy. You seek out what works. You try different things. You try to understand the enemy's power and capabilities, and don't expect fairness or rightness to prevail on its own; in the end, you need power.

In posturing, trying to get into your opponent's shoes and see things as they do is often seen as a weakness. Actions are often based on identity: people protest angrily or try to have civil conversations based on whether they are drawn to angry protest or civil conversation, not because in a particular situation ones works better. Posturing acts as if someone with power is watching: we make threats into the air to the DNC that they will lose the next election if they don't stop taking the corporate money, but what we are asking is that the actual people in charge not be in charge —we're right, they're wrong, so something should happen.

None of the people in my circles calling for incivility are actually ready to launch military strikes against ICE. The most serious might put their time and bodies on the line to blockade ICE: this is the most radical response I've heard of, and it's an action that I think is acceptable to people calling for radical civility and also those upset with civility — a sign that we are arguing the wrong frame.

So perhaps the frame is that on one side is posturing and focusing on yourself, and the other side is engaging power and exploring what works. (1) Nice-Nice Civility and (2) anger and (3) shutting it out and not caring — these are all right next to each other, personal preferences or things you posture for your social group. They are all opposites of a range of tactics that focus not on yourself but on the issues. Speaking truth to power and tactics from radical civility in the Gandhi and King tradition are over on that side, along with get out the vote campaigns. Tactics that might look very similar at a superficial level might be on opposite ends of the posturing vs reality-aware efforts to create change.

There is lots of talk today that what is happening in DC is related to fascism, so let's look at the lessons from Nazi Germany: Politely using active listening techniques to encourage a slightly Anti-Semitic German citizen to vote against the Nazi party in 1932, or dropping bombs on Nazi Germany in 1942 both were reality-aware, power-aware techniques. Having a fist-fight with a Nazi in 1932 where no one changes a vote, and bystanders are discouraged and close their hearts a bit, was posturing.

So, what is the frame that encompasses these ideas? What words stand out — or an image —that would let radical civility be counted as non-posturing, and spending your time tone policing allies while not speaking truth to power be declared posturing? How do we keep the radical civility movement from being associated with nice-nice civility / tone-policing? .

(I doubt we can use the word "civility" and not wind up with a frame that is primarily about civility, with tone police and Gandhi grouped together.)

Stephen Cataldo Sun, 07/01/2018 - 16:04

Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump a 'Feckless Cunt' for her role in enabling and covering for atrocious Trump administration policies such as separating parents and children, an insult which blew up, and became the story:

I would do anything to help those kids;
I hate that this distracted from them,
so to them, I am also sorry.


For those who believe in the communication approaches made famous first by Gandhi and King, Bee's failure to help people focus on the issues she cares about is a clear object lesson:

1) When the techniques from the world of ahimsa, nonviolent protest or radical civility are not used, when we name-call even 10% as rudely as our opponents, our incivility buffers listeners from the wrongs being committed. This is how we lose the political fight against Trump.

2) Calls for radical civility are in danger of being used by be-nice civility. When the techniques from the world of ahimsa, nonviolent protest or radical civility — techniques that all involve training and work to be be better communicators — are associated with be-nice, everything-is-ok civility (and perhaps even tone-policing our allies), it means we won't be able to recruit people in our own movements, won't be able to get people to come to the trainings and try out these techniques. This is how we lose the chance to create a movement that can win the political fight.

Civility is often about being nice to the person you are talking with at the expense of whoever is getting hurt; radical civility has to be about facing what is going on in the world — while keeping ourselves, our egos and our communication techniques from becoming a distraction or buffer to the real story. In this sense, radical civility and be-nice civility are actually opposites.

I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour. But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. — Mahatma Gandhi

Radical civility needs to be able to talk about horrible things. This is the tradition it comes from: there was not equivalence between British colonizers and Indians struggling for independence, nor was their equivalence between those who wanted Civil Rights and those opposed.

Do you want to see America go through a movement, so when the next generation looks back, the list of victories of nonviolent movements talks about Gandhi, King, Mandela, and the wide awakening that happened after Trump was elected?

I think if we want that to be the case, we have to break the associations between radical civility and be-nice civility, and learn and then teach how to express anger at the wrongs being committed in a way that we no longer are the distraction.

So far, I don't think I've seen a radical civility movement that makes this clear: in the civility groups I've joined, you get in trouble for judging opponents as responsible for their actions, but not in trouble for judging them as not responsible their actions — rather than stick to avoiding judgment and sticking to communication and mobilization.

The Democrats and also the Left have been failing in recent years partly because we aren't good at expressing anger: being willing to face how bad certain actions are without dipping into name-calling and techniques known to backfire, known to make the debate itself into a distraction. The main exception I can think of is Michelle Obama, who does not hold back on how bad certain political choices are, but simultaneously doesn't insult and does invite everyone to get on the side of decency or justice.

Bee is describing how incivility becomes a buffer between listeners and what the Trump administration is doing. There are things worth being angry about, and figuring out techniques for communication that don't tone-police that anger downwards, but instead help the real issues be heard. Suggestions: "No Stale Anger" and the following sections, page 50 of Cognitive Politics, or join Social Media Responses for Respect and Tolerance.

Stephen Cataldo Sun, 06/10/2018 - 15:12

I am skeptical that saying the president has lost it is and is "like a child" is helpful in an era of blue lies. We would actually do much better if we (liberals) steelman Trump — quite a job — but find something we can defend Trump against overreach, which at the same time makes the other accusations feel more real (it's no longer a spitting contest.) I think the accusation that "100% of the people around Trump…question his intelligence and fitness for office" is already being disputed by some people who would have to be in the 100%. Trump, imo and before framing this down to merely effects of old age, has made evil decisions, used racism for the purpose of obtaining power, etc. "Like a child" is not the right key, is not our frame. I do think encouraging supporters of the Trump movement to lock down in their support of individuals who will wind up fighting in the future is a powerful political tool, acceptable (if not beautiful) within civility conversations. If people feel specifically loyal to Trump or Bannon before they fight, it is a more fragile movement opposing us than one of pure loyalty, where Republicans can call each other racist and incompetent in the primaries and then unite again. In an era of blue lies, we have to put chisels in the cracks before the fractures, or only the smallest flakes will be removed. Trump being a loser is something that every time a left-y person says it, causes more wagon-circling: we shouldn't make that accusation. Just point out the evidence, without any conclusion. { SMART vocab: say why, but skip the conclusion. }

Radical Civility Cycle: Reflect and Agree

A lot of Trump supporters feel that they are on the losing end of innuendo and gossip — and with Fire and Fury, they're probably right. That makes this a good time to agree that this is too gossipy, and perhaps reflect back that we all should stop accepting innuendo in politics — people on the border of being reasonable might be motivated to be more reasonable now, and it may stick..

If you are willing to agree that this is gossipy, what do you want past Trump supporters to see and agree on?

When Trump was running, this is what I saw: He tried to divide ordinary Americans. I'm not saying that conservatives or liberals do this. A lot of politicians on both sides, a lot of nonprofits trying to get funding, they try to divide us. For me, the recent accusations are scattered. I am furious that people were willing to vote for the man behind the Birther accusations, a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth who screws over the small businesspeople who work for him, a man with multiple accusations of racism and overt and nasty sexism — he brags about worse than what Bill Clinton tried to keep secret. We should not have elected such a man, should not have given him our trust. And who is behind him?

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/magazine/naomi-klein-is-sick-of-bene…

We are looking to be saved. Half of American voters looked to a benevolent billionaire (who inherited, not even self made) to stand up to other billionaires; half turned to someone who got rich by keeping the very rich satisfied. People doing work create the wealth. We need working class and middle class and professionals creating the wealth to run this country — not turn on each other because we disagree on social issues.

Stephen Fri, 01/05/2018 - 13:16
pic of human spine
Encourage politicians to find their spines.

Do you have a Republican representative or senator, who toes the party line instead of doing what they themselves believe is good for the country? And writing them — telling them facts they already know — always feels like a hopeless exercise? Try this, to see if you can reconnect with scraps of integrity they or their staff are hiding in the Trump era.

Write them asking simply:

Would you stand up to Trump if you knew you were retiring?

Don't add team identifiers to it. Get some friends to do it with you, and push for an answer. Hand written postcards would be great. Ask it very, very politely in public places. Leave the conclusion open, it's obvious, you don't have to say it.



Inspired by Robert Reich's introduction of which "Republicans are willing to stand up to Trump"

to Susan B Glasser's For Trump, “Consequences Are Piling Up” with Republicans in Washington.

Cognitive Politics techniques: leading with facts backfires, where questions can get people thinking outside their normal patterns. Remind people of their own values, and it's often most powerful to set up the conclusion while letting them take the last step.

Stephen Fri, 10/13/2017 - 17:26

Summary: Ending political conversations with an invite to participate in a mutual activity together seems to take the edge off.

I post and comment in a number of pro-Trump, Tea Party and mixed groups as part of an effort to encourage people to engage in a crowdstorming effort on how to make government work. Most of us want change. Most people want government of, for and by the people and very few people believe we have it. But sometimes I venture off a bit, trying to bring people back from extreme positions. I can't say what exactly makes it work, but even these get a few likes, an occasional "well said" and absolutely no attacks. I've gotten a handful of friend requests from the "other side' even, and strong endorsements from the founders of the Facebook groups. I don't get many comments, but I wonder if in this environment where people are so harsh online if "no comment" is a breakthrough.

Certainly respecting the other person, our differences and being open to compromise positions helps. I'll typically take into consideration the core differences we might have when addressing a topic.

In addition I (almost) always bring any comment I am making back to the question of how to make our government work for the people. Ending on that note seems to make anything I say before sound more reasonable. Or maybe they are intimidated by my invitation to join our effort (it is true if they challenge me I'll encourage them to join the crowdstorming effort).

Here's an example of a closing:

There's a movement afoot right now to work on these issues. Folks (just ordinary grassroots people, not the politicians or the corporate-funded think tanks) from across the political spectrum are coming together to figure out how to make our government & economy work for the people. It is a crowdstorming effort so the more people who participate the easier it comes for us all, and the better results. I hope you all will consider joining us.

Here's our group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/changeconversationnow

You'll find there links to reports on what we've come up with so far and instructions on how to join in figuring out detailed solutions to issues we all want fixed.

Bryce Johannes Thu, 10/12/2017 - 15:06

Questions are one of the most powerful tools for mind-changing conversations. Asking someone why they believe in something, encouraging them to list the reasons (so you can argue with their reasons) is not typically effective. Instead of asking someone why they believe in a certain policy, especially a complex one, ask them to explain how their policy will work.

The study Political Extremism Is Supported by an Illusion of Understanding
found this to be particularly useful to help moderate extremism. Progressives might want to use this technique around abortion laws, the conservative desire to fight ISIS, or Republican healthcare bills.

Stephen Cataldo Mon, 10/09/2017 - 14:39

Two recommended communication techniques are to isolate trolls and to stick to your frame and values. These ideas are often in tension:

For example when neo-Nazis and white nationalists grab torches and march through our streets, we can isolate them and their supporters relatively easily, or talk about institutionalized and unconscious bias — where we have a lot of work to do before there is near-universal agreement.

Isolating trolls means finding a way to remind the vast majority of Americans that we are all against people with swastikas, together. Perhaps reinforcing the idea a bit ahead of the current reality, proclaiming the world we want optimistically. It is a reasonable, achievable goal that any politician who associates with white nationalists, swastikas and domestic terrorists can be politically utterly ruined.

Speaking from your frame means calling out the existing racism and privilege, such as failures of most police departments to deal with institutionalized racism. Racism is a deeply entrenched disease in the US; there is a politically powerful demographic that doesn’t see it yet, a giant education campaign ahead — we can't use isolation techniques on that large a population, we have to convince people to change their minds.

On swastikas, we are not divided into two, and have to prevent that situation from getting worse. On institutionalized racism there is not a unified super-majority in agreement.

When discussing these issues, especially online, it’s important to decide whether you are speaking your heart, or isolating a troll — and to do both, but not do both at the same time. When Trump associates with people who use the Nazi “blood and soil” chant, attack him from the center, attack him as an American — isolate him, for that moment don’t represent liberals or the left ... which will press many conservatives to feel aligned with him. At other times, when it is time to really move forward, ignore Trump (don’t say “No” to his position), and proudly state your most idealistic vision.

In social media, it is often a two-step process. Think of it as walking through a door: the first step is to open the door, countering outrageous politicians in a way that supermajorities will feel united with you. Then walk through it, being respectful while challenging, and including ourselves in the group that needs to work on changing.

Stephen Cataldo Mon, 10/02/2017 - 16:41