More than 90 community members had the opportunity to learn to tackle divisive community issues recently at the Park County Public Library.
The workshop “The Power of Dialogue: Constructive Conversation on Divisive Issues,” was facilitated by the organization Essential Partners of Cambridge, Mass., on April 28.
Executive director of Essential Partners Parisa Parsa said the goal of their organization is to create conversation in the midst of conflict.
“Our organization does training and facilitation for groups that are in really divisive conflict, to help set some new patterns and offer alternatives for ways to communicate that can help create stronger relationships and therefore stronger communities,” Parsa said.
Participants had the opportunity to have constructive dialogue on controversial issues, such as guns in schools.
“We have worked with folks on some of the most divisive social issues and today we were asked to come and help folks have a little experience of the kind of dialogue that we do,” Parsa said.
Senior associate Bob Stains said Essential Partners works on a variety of issues that are close to the heart of many people.
“We started our work back in the 80s with the issue of abortion,” Stains said. “We’ve done a lot of work with religious conflict and issues around heterosexuality and homosexuality, and the environment.”
Stains said they also do work to help solve international conflict.
“Overseas, we have done work with people returning from war in Africa and then living in villages where they have killed people,” Stains said. “Now, we are doing a lot of work with refugee settlement in Europe.”
Rev. Mary Caucutt said she organized the workshop because of the increased trend of polarization she has noticed in society today.
“We wanted to do something to plant seeds or equip our community to be more effective in building the kind of relationships that bridge across difference, rather than everybody staying in their camps,” Caucutt said.
Caucutt said she learned about Essential Partners through community member Jessica Case, whose mother Laura Chasin began the organization.
City council member Glenn Nielson said he believes the things he learned from the workshop can be applied to many aspects of life.
“It will benefit all of us in our marriages, in our personal relationships, hopefully in our professional relationships,” Nielson said. “And certainly I hope it will roll through the community boards and programs that we interact with also.”
Nielson said he hopes that those who attended will be able to take what they learned and apply it to future situations and avoid conflict.
“Rather than coming to the table ready to fight, if we come to the table with our different opinions and say we are going to use that dialogue training and really work through this difficult issue, that can be a fun process,” Nielson said.