Seek First to Understand: Restoring the Strength of our Democracy through Conversation

Providing opportunity to learn how to connect with others with different opinions so we can work together to restore our democracy. 

The Problem

How many of us are still struggling to reconnect with relatives, friends, coworkers or neighbors following the 2016 election? Social media provides a great opportunity for people to connect through shares of photos of babies, puppies and vacations. But for communication of our thoughts and opinions about the hot-button issues that rose to the surface during the election, social media may have done more harm than good to our ability to relate to each other.

If people are feeling isolated and disillusioned almost two years after the election, it may be because they feel disconnected from the ability to express themselves when it comes to political issues. Let’s face it: every day, there is the potential to become involved in a political conversation waiting in line at the coffee shop or hanging out at the dog park. The nation has woken up to the importance of engagement.

It feels good when we can engage with others who believe the same things we do. But what about when we can’t? In order to solve problems facing our communities and our nation, we have to be able to talk to people we don’t necessarily agree with, and who don’t necessarily believe what we do. Many people have no idea where to begin when it comes to engaging in difficult conversations with confidence and openness across significant differences, in order to work together. Do you know where to begin?

The Solution

Begin with us! Living Room Conversations provides simple, downloadable, open-ended yet structured Conversation Guides on over 70 topics, instructions on creating your own Living Room Conversation + six essential Conversation Agreements--completely free to all. We aspire to go viral! Our national network of volunteer organizers bring people of often sharply differing views together, in a host’s living room, online “Zoom room” or on campus, at city hall, in a house of worship, library, or many other public spaces to express themselves without fear of judgement or reprisal, and practice listening to others express themselves as well.

Developed by a team of professional mediators, Living Room Conversations provides a video platform and an, a easy-to-adapt conversational model, plus over 70 topic Guides to help get a conversation organized. Anyone can host an online conversation and anyone can join one from anywhere in the world. Living Room Conversations have been proven to lead to inclusive collaborative problem-solving and solutions at local and national levels on key issues, for example: criminal justice reform, clean tax cuts, and climate/energy policy.

Disagreement on important issues is a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to create insurmountable divides. We are co-creating with our participants a world in which people who have fundamental differences of opinion and backgrounds learn to work together with respect and even joy to realize the vibrant future we all desire for ourselves and our families.

Planned Use Of Funds

Expansion! Shared Nation support would help us respond quickly to the explosion of new volunteer hosts and organizers contacting us for support.

Backstory: many participants who experience their first Living Room Conversation want to host and organize Conversations for their colleagues, and in their own communities, organizations, and networks. Our organizing staff respond to ALL requests for help from new hosts and organizers PERSONALLY while maintaining the schedule of national program offerings you can find (and join!) on our Events page:

Events offered include online trainings and host/organizer meetings plus Zoom video Living Room Conversations on hot topics like Money in Politics, or Mental Health, plus perennial topics like connecting across political differences (which we call “Relationships First.”).

Shared Nation support would help us help these brand-new Living Room Conversations get well rooted in local soil in each new location around the country so they develop and expand sustainably.

Over the long-term, we sustain our growth through relational grassroots fundraising; Shared Nation funding now would allow us to keep pace with the explosion we are seeing while sustaining existing program offerings, and would generously help keep us ahead of the curve.

Stage of Development

  • Early Stage
  • Established Prototype
  • Scaling
  • Other

Organization to Receive Funds

Shared Nation would fund Mediators Foundation, on behalf of Living Room Conversations specifically. Mediators Foundation is our fiscal sponsor. We are legally structured as a nonprofit project of Mediators Foundation, which has allowed us to focus on expansion before focusing on forming our own Board of Directors and incorporating as an independent nonprofit.

This project was nominated by: