There are already “safe spaces for respectful conversations across partisan divides” which have been developed with great care through community development. They are shockingly liberal and discomforting, but need treasuring and multiplying. The above sign is from St James’ Church, Piccadilly in which rough sleepers mix (and sleep) with other worshippers (gathering from across many partisan divides) under one roof.
Parker J Palmer, in the Huffington Post draws attention to a project organised by the Wisconsin Council of Churches (with backing from Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities) initiated by a call from thirty-six religious leaders from across the state have called for “a Season of Civility“. Amidst “partisan rancour” they realise that they “must create ‘safe spaces’ for respectful conversations across the partisan divides. And we must move beyond the walls of our congregations to include everyone in our local communities in this dialogue.” They are using Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy to help guide their thinking, focusing on five “habits of the heart”:
- understanding that we are all in this together (where have we heard that before?)
- an appreciation of the value of “otherness”
- an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
- a sense of personal voice and agency
- a capacity to create community
Palmer’s Huffington Post article is written with American civility (or, lack of) in mind, but the issues he faces are universal. They transgress partisan divides. “The powers” have ways of discouraging us from rattling cages and discouraging conflict. In workshops (safe spaces?) I have seen that conflict has negative connotations for most people. But Palmer reminds us that conflict has a real place in the development of civility, community and society. “America was founded on the historically novel and radical premise that conflict and tension, rightly held, are the engine, not the enemy, of a better social order.” “The civility we need will come not from watching our tongues, but from valuing our diferences and the creativity that can come when we hold them well.”