Letter to the Editor

We can choose differently, we can do better

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Small towns don’t need to mirror the vitriol of national media where hate has become a current obsession. We can choose differently and we can do better.

The division is exhausting and it has trickled down to us at a local level, keeping us collectively from moving forward. While we don’t have to all agree, we do have to get along with each other so that we can tackle the big challenges within our community that require us to sit down at a table together.

So, how do we come together to have conversations that lead to real results? In my experience as a business leader and consensus builder, here are three essentials for a good conversation on any issue.

Drop the harmful labels and judgements; Both need to be left at the door. Meet with open hearts and minds, because what you look for, you will find.

It’s in your power to give everyone a pass. There’s always someone who seems to rub us the wrong way. Find something to appreciate about them and focus there. Lift others up by seeing their good and let them shine from that point. They’ll return the favor to you, and you’ll feel better for the grace extended and harmony created.

Bring people to the table. Start small with a few key folks with differing perspectives. Think about who has the most to gain by solving an issue. What’s in it for them? Then get ready to make a convincing case as to why it’s in their best interest to join you. It’s something different for every person, like a robust mainstreet, more shoppers, young people coming back to raise their families, a more welcoming society, a stronger workforce, richer cultural experiences. You get the idea.

Get a few thought leaders on board with the idea and then expand to bring others in. Make absolutely sure the under-represented and those whom you’d like to help are at the table. The more perspectives you include, the stronger your solution and outcome will be.

And there are a few table manners. When people speak, listen. Let their words land and sink-in. Then ask questions. Work to understand first, then be understood. In the process, look for places you might agree.

Find common ground and negotiate the rest. Lasting action often comes when we move to the middle to have a conversation and find things we agree on. This is where we work together and where real progress starts. From there it’s easier to recognize there’s likely a whole lot more that we have in common than not.

In the old days, we made a lot of progress by meeting in the middle. It worked like this: We would start with what we agree on. For example, 50% of an issue. Then we’d split the difference. You’d get 25% of what you wanted. I’d get 25% of mine. We’d both end up with 75%. No one would walk away with 100% but both sides got something that they wanted.

Oftentimes, there’s low hanging fruit to get some momentum building — easy things that can be agreed on by both sides and get some good feelings started.

Finally, don’t discount small steps forward! Forward progress is something to celebrate. Healing division and building conversation has the ability to repair our relationships with fellow community members. By dropping harmful labels, bringing people to the table and finding common ground, we can impactfully grow wellbeing for us all.

Lean Jacobsen, Lean is a nonprofit advocate, community organizer and former Spencer city councilwoman, Spencer