Berlin library hosting program to allow residents to discuss political views in safe manner

Published on Friday, 29 July 2022 14:14


BERLIN – The Berlin-Peck Memorial Library will be hosting ‘Courageous Conversations” Aug. 11 where participants are encouraged to discuss their political views in a safe manner. 

The purpose of this discussion is to put people with opposite views together and have them find a common ground. According to Librarian Anne Henriques, participants will be paired with one other person who is roughly their political counterpart.

“Each conversation will be moderated by either myself or Kim McNally, the librarians who have created and led this program, but the participants will primarily decide how they discuss their assigned topic,” Henriques said.

Participants can speak on various topics such as abortion, gender, sexuality, gun control, healthcare, immigration, policing, criminal justice, prison, social programs and much more.

Participants are asked to select three to five of the topics they are interested in discussing and the librarians will pair them with someone also interested in having a conversation on those topics.

“Our patrons represent a wide variety of viewpoints, beliefs and values on a range of topics,” Henriques said. “This program requires participants from all sides of the political spectrum and all viewpoints. We are actively seeking participation from Republicans, Democrats, Independents and those who may not want to define themselves along party lines but who feel strongly about a particular topic.”  

Participants are expected to uphold the conversational agreements which entails engaging to understand, listening to learn, embracing vulnerability and speaking your truth and understanding there’s more than one answer. The librarians will go over the conversational agreements before the conversation begins and redirect participants should things begin to escalate, Henriques said.

“These conversations are dialogs, not debates, and the goal of the conversation is understanding,” Henriques said.

The library has been hosting the Courageous Conversations program since January. According to Henriques, the library decided to offer these one-on-one conversations because multiple patrons in their group asked for it.  

“The program began with discussions of books that teach people how to have conversations with someone on the other side of the political spectrum,” Henriques said. “While the books focused on political discussions, we adapted that to include different viewpoints. People are complex with a variety of viewpoints, beliefs, opinions and values regardless of where they fall politically. Our patrons wanted more opportunities to practice those skills beyond the small group format that we've been offering. Our entire Courageous Conversations program is an important one because of how polarized our political climate has become.”

Moderators will choose an article and ask all participants to read ahead of time in order to have knowledge of that topic. Librarians lead the discussion by asking participants questions giving everyone the opportunity to share their opinion. According to Hneriques, the participants will be mainly in control of their conversation, with librarians present to moderate and help as needed.  

“We have found over the past few months that those who attend truly want to talk to others, but sometimes disagreements do arise. Because of the conversational agreements and the desire that our participants have to participate in this important work, they have used the skills taught to recognize that conversation can still happen even when we disagree, as long as we treat one another with dignity,” Henriques said.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin on Friday, 29 July 2022 14:14. Updated: Friday, 29 July 2022 14:17.