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Group Explores Ways to Have Difficult Conversations in Divisive Times

Credit: iStock

Shanteya Hudson

At a time when it’s easy to find something to disagree about, whether it’s politics or social issues, one organization is working to help others have more productive conversations about divisive topics.

Henry McHenry, founder of the group Meetings of Opposites, said the key to getting people to listen to one another is changing the arena of conversation, to allow them to bridge the gaps between opposing viewpoints.

“Civilizations, societies, are organized around their dominant conversations,” he said, “and it is important in a divisive time to get a grip on the dominant conversation that runs our lives.”

McHenry, who lives in Virginia, said he’ll bring his 2 1/2-hour session anywhere in the United States at no charge. He said Meetings of Opposites is about more than changing the arena and tone of conversation. It’s also about exploring different ways of perceiving the world. The training uses visual perception as a tool to show how two people can look at the same thing and see something completely different.

Meetings of Opposites also emphasizes the importance of empathy in communication. Rather than attempting to change someone’s viewpoint on a topic, McHenry is a proponent of what is often referred to as “active listening” – paying full attention to what they’re saying instead of thinking about how you’ll counter it or judging the speaker. He said this encourages better two-way communication.

“So, the arena changes from ‘us against them’ to ‘we for each other,'” he said. “And once you’ve experienced ‘we for each other,’ you probably don’t want to go back to ‘us against them.'”

In an Ipsos/Public Agenda survey in 2019, half of Americans said they think the nation will become “more destructive” in dealing with disagreements in the next 10 years.

This story was written by Shanteya Hudson, a reporter at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.