Is there is a blueprint to building alternative dialogue models that can better cater to the needs of youth and community? We spoke with Jeffrey Imm, a sage adviser on conflict resolution and peace building, to benefit from his years of efforts and observation in human rights movements.
The founder of the volunteer human rights activist group, REAL – Responsible for Equality and Liberty, Jeffrey believes that the current great divide in American political debate — or zero-sum politics — is preventing a major push for human rights in the United States today.
It’s also what’s to blame for broken dialogue models. When asked what he thought of the dialogue models ushered in by the rise of celebrity intellectuals and their often combative styles of engagement, Jeffrey had this to share with us:
“Many political debaters are engaged in zero-sum ideological wrestling matches. The cross talk that is so common in the television ‘news’ circus is simply a symptom of this mono-focus on power above all, above communication, above courtesy, above dignity. The zero-sum thinking means we must talk over ‘the other.’ All that matters in such power-centric thinking is that ‘the other’ loses and we win. It is not new. But what is increasingly new is the 24-7, 365 days a year (by both broadcasting and social media) way that it increasingly normalized it as the ‘proper’ way to ‘debate.’
“Few of us enter any type of debates as ‘unbiased’ bystanders looking simply to solve problems, with no position or agenda of our own. But the political figures are directly looking to leverage the debate for their own direct power. Political figures are not only those seeking power to gain elected office, but also those who seek to improve their power as ‘influencers.’
“What is missing is a set of ‘ground rules’ for candid and fair discussions so they don’t devolve into shouting matches. When I have done structured interviews with the media, I generally make sure I know what the subject is, the time frame for discussion, etc. That’s a discipline we all need, regardless of our background, whether it is human rights, activism, politics, government. I was raised in a family culture that understood this. My father had Robert’s Rules of Order in his bookcase.
“But the unstructured, fire hose version of on-the-spot interviews, and the extreme political polarization of political figures and media, has allowed the degrading of this to become ‘normal.’ Organized discussions with an actual moderator, which get publicized, can show a different approach to at least conversation.
Since our media seems to be structured in a combative model and online engagement has become increasingly hostile, it falls on parents, educators and community leaders to model an alternative for youth to mirror.