With American Crosscut, we want to help create an America where greater understanding and respect help people cross divides, so they can discover and advance common goals. We hope to inspire constructive left/right relationships by exploring, through blog-based conversations, the similarities as well as differences between people who normally disagree.
If nothing else, we might improve discourse in the blogosphere.
Though these conversations rely on contemporary technology, our symbol is traditional and low-tech — a two-person crosscut saw like those that cleared fields, harvested timber and bucked the lumber that built the cities of the upper Midwest.
“The back and forth to move us forward.”
You can interpret the metaphor for yourself. But for us, it signifies that big jobs require cooperation and alignment, and also, push and pull. Working one-on-one — close to the ground and focused on a common purpose — we can move America forward.
Blogs offer a great forum for such conversations, but too often, the discourse can get contentious, nasty or personal in the worst way. Fisking each other’s posts simply escalates the conflict. And comment threads, even when they are civil, can be hard to follow as different voices with different agendas chime in and redirect the discussion.
How it works.
American Crosscut brings together two bloggers who see the world differently. They get acquainted face-to-face and then agree to start an ongoing dialogue, most often through email. When they decide a conversation has reached a good stopping point, they simultaneously post the thread in their respective blogs.
We think this approach works best because each blog is likely to have a perspective already familiar to readers who may share certain ideological views. They might not regularly read a blog of the other persuasion — and would not necessarily seek out a “Kumbaya” blog that specializes in discussions between left and right.
No two bloggers can possibly represent their respective "sides," and they shouldn't try. Instead, they serve as models of two people respectfully working out differences and finding commonality. As others witness the exchange, they may be inspired to do the same and add to the diverse conversation.
Otherwise there are no rules, just some guidelines and suggestions to make it easy for bloggers to try their own American Crosscut experiment.
To help build trust and increase the chances of successful dialogue, participants should agree upon these guidelines, especially if they do not have a long-standing personal connection.
- Listen to understand instead of to refute. Try to understand the deeper interests and concerns behind people's perceptions rather than trying to change their perceptions to fit your reality.
- Speak to each other as individuals, from your own unique experience, rather than be your side's representative.
- Explore complexities of the issue. Reveal differences that may exist even on your side.
- Question the usual language, problem definition and possible solutions that constrain discussion.
- Demonstrate the values you believe are essential to the process, such as inclusiveness, tolerance, mutual understanding and respect.
- Talk about perceptions, issues and solutions, more than politics and personalities.
- Provide links to sources where facts may be in dispute.
Bloggers tend to create a certain persona that's different from their authentic selves. Engaging in this kind of dialog will challenge that persona. Be willing to be challenged and resist the urge to default to your blogger voice when responding.
- Look for contrasts in a discussion partner — not just in politics, but age, gender, occupation, residence, etc. The more differences, the richer the conversations — not to mention the greater delight in finding commonalities.
- Have lunch, share a beer, go to a ball game — whatever it takes to get face-to-face. The first pair of Crosscutters met at a ceramics event designed to bring left and right bloggers together.
- Swap stories about your formative experiences. Spend enough time to be sure you’re reasonably compatible.
- Plan to throw away or come back later to your first attempt at a conversation. This is harder than it looks. You'll have more discussions than appear in public.
- Try to limit each discussion to a single topic. Use a news event or blog post as your peg.
- Keep it fun. Initiate a discussion when something truly inspires you. Don’t feel like you have to post a new one every week.
- Shorter exchanges are easier to respond to — and to read. Aim for completing the post within a day or two. That keeps you both focused and the subject fresh.
- Keep it spontaneous. Avoid going back to edit unless you find a mistake. Don’t edit the other’s text.
- Flag your discussion graphically to differentiate it from routine content. Use type and/or color to distinguish the voices. Paste the American Crosscut logo into the post.
For more information, contact Charlie Quimby.
For information about other resources, go here.