Let’s Talk – Exploring Common Ground Across Divides

The need we are responding to:

Increasingly, people don’t trust anyone who does not think like them. Too often, we see those on the other side of the aisle or issue as an enemy or even evil. Polarization is deepening and traditional political leadership is increasingly being questioned, as all of us are confronted with complex issues about the future that are challenging the effectiveness of current decision making processes. 

Thankfully, at the same time, significant innovations are also being developed. From Braver Angels and Living Room Conversations in the US to Citizens’ Councils that have been sponsored by local governments in Austria and Germany, an abundance of initiatives in communicating across divides have shown that “ordinary people” in a well-facilitated environment are capable of connecting across differences. Here is one resource article with links to several of these kinds of initiatives. 

What we are creating locally and short term:

“Let’s Talk – Exploring Common Ground Across Divides”.
Our first facilitated community conversation “across divides” is on the topic of COVID vaccines and will be later in June 2021, 2 sessions of 2.5 hrs each.

Vaccines, masks, lock-downs – these are topics that trigger vastly different responses in people. While some see them as life-saving necessities and unquestionably good for us all, others experience them as impositions and unwelcome or even dangerous overreach into their personal liberties and life.And this is just one of the many topics that we can find ourselves on different sides of, with friends, family members or colleagues, whom we appreciate, yet cannot seem to find common ground with on one or more challenging issues. Think Housatonic River clean up, climate solutions, zoning issues – the list can be long. That is why Living the Change Berkshires and Diapraxis are embarking on a series of conversations that invite people to the table who see things differently. It’s called “Let’s talk – Exploring Common Ground Across Divides”Our experience over many years in dialogue facilitation and mediation has shown that, given the right setting, people on different sides of an issue can communicate with each other in ways that respect each others’ integrity, values and ideas. That makes it possible to focus on what we have in common and how we might approach big and often complicated questions and issues in creative ways, together.“Let’s Talk” conversations consist of 2 sessions of 2.5 hours, a few days apart, are clearly structured and facilitated, and are focused on one locally relevant topic at a time. Until further notice, they are held virtually on zoom.

Our goal is to offer participants a facilitated space where they can experience a taste of constructive conversations across differences.  It is our intention that over time, these conversations will lead to larger projects of dialogue and collaboration.

About us: Let’s Talk: Exploring Common Ground Across Divides was founded out of the conviction that in order to create the best future possible, we need as many voices and as many viewpoints at the table as possible. Like many, we have grown deeply concerned about the growing polarization and harshness of discourse in our country over the past decade. Not just on the national level; local issues can become very charged and personal as well, or conversations about them are just avoided altogether. It can feel intimidating or useless to speak up. This divides us further and creates more distrust among neighbors, family members or colleagues and erodes our civic decision making processes. Living the Change Berkshires has been hosting community conversations and fairs on climate related issues in the Berkshires for seven years. Run by three volunteers, we have partnered with many local non-profits across sectors, like Berkshire Museum, Manos Unidas, and Mass Audubon, and with businesses and towns. Our work at the moment focuses on dialogue and facilitation.
DiaPraxis is a consulting practice founded by Rosa Zubizarreta, who has been living in the Berkshires since 2004. We facilitate collaborative planning processes and help organizations develop their internal capacity for working on challenging issues. We also teach the Dynamic Facilitation process locally, nationally, and internationally, to organizational consultants, mediators, public engagement professionals, and interested community members.

Midterm plans:

Forward to fall 2021 when we are aiming to host a local gathering over 4 sessions of diverse participants to explore the topic of Individual Freedoms and The Common Good – Bridging divides in times of Covid and Climate Change.

Experience has shown that structured conversations can help a group slow down and listen more deeply to one another. By creating room for diverse viewpoints, we allow for understanding and new perspectives to emerge. The intention is for participants to feel truly heard and in turn, be able to hear others.

Our intention and hope is that increased familiarity with this kind of work will attract a greater interest in our community, to sponsor these kinds of projects here in the Berkshires. The Housatonic River remediation, Black Lives Matter/ Support Our Police, Climate Change, Gun Rights / Gun Safety – many issues demand that we reach beyond our ideological divides in order to find our way forward as healthy communities.

More about the design of these Community Conversations here.

The larger vision: Increase local capacity for working constructively with conflicting perspectives and participatory governance.

Working constructively with conflict means that we use differences as an opportunity for learning and growth.  Participatory governance means that people who are affected by a decision, get to be part of making the decision.

Our mission: Organize and host an initial Community Conversation here in the Berkshires, and then continue to make Community Conversations and Community Councils available to address local issues. 

As part of this work, we are offering learning opportunities for community members and local leaders, to learn about the form that this work takes, as well as to experience the flavor of it.    


Who we are: This project is a collaboration between Living the Change Berkshires, DiaPraxis, and Alliance for a Viable Future. You can learn more about us on our respective websites linked here. Also, we welcome interested people to come meet us during our bimonthly small-group gatherings online. Here is a link to sign up. 

Our practices: Empathy Circles, Dynamic Facilitation and Sociocracy are some of the key tools with which we work.

There are many other approaches we practice and appreciate, including Art of Hosting, Non Violent Communication, The Art of Not Taking it Personally, Deep Democracy, Restorative Circles, and more.  We welcome collaborations with practitioners of various methodologies, toward realizing the larger vision of an increased local capacity for participatory democracy and for working constructively with conflict

Design of Community Conversations

If you would like to learn more, please e-mail uli@livingthechangerberskires.com. We also invite you to join us on the second and forth Thursday of every month at 4pm on zoom. These meetings are designed to get to know each other, learn about the status of the project and experience the flavor of our work in a sharing circle. You can sign up here.