It’s a classic situation: you’re gathered around the family table and the relatives start talking politics. As insults are hurled about, the talk gets louder and more heated until someone shouts for everyone to just stop.
Whether the point of contention was about right versus left, red versus blue or a particular stance on gun control, immigration or transgender rights, it doesn’t really matter. Each side could not find neutral ground or mutual respect for the other.
And that in a nutshell describes what has become a major issue in today’s society, said Barry Gan, professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Nonviolence at St. Bonaventure University.
“The biggest problem in this country is: can we speak to one another about anything?” said Gan. “I think it’s OK for folks to disagree. But there’s a sense to want to overcome the other side.”
In an effort to continue on with their mission to bridge the divide of social and racial justice issues, YWCA of Genesee County and event organizers have just one question: “Can We Talk?”
The event is free and open to the public and will focus on how to have passionate yet respectful discussions with people who may disagree with you. The talk begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18, at the YWCA, 301 North St.
Gan will also speak at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 5, at the Olean Public Library on Martin Luther King, Jr. The title of that talk is: “A Dream or a Nightmare?” Gan spoke about Dr. King on Monday at Ss. Columba-Brigid Church Hall in Buffalo at the first MLK Day of Community Organizing.
It may seem impossible at times to get along, as people stand firm on their opinions and shun all other thought. However, deliberate, purposeful and yes, even peaceful discussions can be had, said organizer Rev. Roula Alkhouri.
“My hope is to reframe the conversations and really understand (one another’s) story better,” Alkhouri said. “We want to get into the why someone feels the way they do. If we can at least agree on the problem, we can reach common ground.”
Say there’s a family gathering and someone tells an off-color joke, how do you handle it? In fact, how does one find ways to talk to people about any unhealthy or controversial issues, Alkhouri wondered.
“This could be a conduit to have that healthy conversation … having a different conversation, one that’s honest but kind,” she said. “If we can practice it more and more, maybe it would lessen those uncomfortable discussions. This event is about racial issues, gun control, anything that’s difficult to agree on. Maybe we can start a movement.”
The evening will include some examples of how Alkhouri and fellow organizers Jim Morasco, of Morganville United Church of Christ, and Gan have experienced their own conversation challenges.
Gan’s scenario involved an age-old debate about whether we live in a Christian or a secular society. This has come up across the country and even locally: Is it OK to display religious symbols, such as a nativity scene, on public property?
For Morasco, his discussion with a family member quickly turned ugly when it came to politics.
“It was building up to ‘I’m right and you’re wrong,’” he said. “That’s not what it’s about.”
Alkhouri has her own recent example of having a difficult talk with someone about homosexuality and the church.
Organizers believe that everyone has at least one of those stories and they hope that attendees are willing to share them during the event. No matter what it’s about, no topic is off limits, they said. That is, as long as folks are willing to talk about it.
“Can we agree to sit down and talk, and is there a willingness to come together to talk about our problems?” Gan said.
For more information, call (585) 343-5808.
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