Choosing a venue
We want to avoid a traditional stage or classroom setting. We want the group organized in a circle or square facing each other. A square presents an ideal format with the moderator and the audience facing one another, flanked by the two groups formulating and responding to questions facing one another.
We also want to try to have internet access. We want to encourage people to do research as questions come up during the proceeding.
If the group is small enough a proceeding could be in a home which allows more emphasis on making it a pleasant social experience.
Why we use this format:
The goal is to organize discussion groups to bridge gaps between people with different world views, and then create a format that avoids the tendency of people with different world views to talk past each other, and cast their views in concrete in the process.
The format is based on recent research on how the brain works. In a nutshell we have two decision-making (DM) modes:
DM - 1. Default decision-making - where we hold some belief anchored in our emotions and respond with that emotional belief without taking the time to analyze whether the belief is actually correct.
DM - 2. Critical thinking decision making, which we call into play when we are faced with an issue for which we have no emotional response, or where our emotional response has produced some painful result that causes us to no longer trust that particular emotional default belief.
The DM-1 is very fast and efficient for decision making, but can lead us to hold erroneous beliefs for all of our life if we don’t suffer some personal emotional uproar as a result of the belief. DM-1 is what allowed Slavery and segregation to exist in this country for nearly 200 years.
DM-2 is slow. It can take weeks, months or even years to restructure previously held emotion based beliefs. And most of us would rather use our time having fun, or thinking about other things. But DM-2 often offers the only way we can reshape ideological beliefs to which we have strong emotional attachment.
The goal of this gathering format is to make an end run around the human tendency to rely on the quick and easy DM-1. Asking questions requires critical thinking, as does answering questions. To ask good questions or make good answers you have to understand the logical underpinnings of your beliefs. When you ask the right questions you initiate DM - 2.
We suggest a 30 second limit on the formal answer (not to be confused with the deliberations leading up to the formal answer where we encourage detailed discussion) because for all of us DM-1 often throws out an answer and then we start manufacturing reasons to support the answer in a long rambling dissertation. We need an answer that is easily subject to examination for inconsistency or hidden assumptions.
Getting people in a good state of mind:
Here is a possible introductory theme you may want to try as a preliminary step in opening up peoples minds to others thoughts.
As we look around this room we see we are all physically different, we may be short, tall, stocky, thin, blond, dark, curly hair straight hair. We accept that physical difference without question. We need to consider the possibility we are physically different inside our heads as well as on the outside. Consider that the fact we think differently may in part be because we were born running a different mix of programs in our head, not because one way of thinking is wrong and the other right.
It may also be useful to:
Reserve some time for socializing, perhaps with some snacks, before or after the proceeding.
Provide name tags.
If the group is small enough start with introductions all around – with each person providing a little bio
Guidelines for Questions and Answers
Most basic rule for all persons at a gathering - If you shout you are out – you are trying to dominate, not communicate
Proceed by questions only, followed by response and an opportunity to respond with a question.
Questions can be preceded by short statements of verifyable fact – with a citation if possible.
No "do you believe..." questions. Questions must address logic and/or facts that underlie beliefs.
If an answer seems to be avoiding the question the Moderator can allow follow up questions by the questioners. If the answers continue to miss the crux of the question the moderator can poll the audience to determine if they believe the answer(s) are a good faith response to the question.
If the moderator(s) deems it appropriate to getting the questioning going it is appropriate to allow each side to designate a person to make a preliminary statements. If at any point during the proceeding it appears to be appropriate to make further statements of belief – use the Indian Talking Stick concept. Before either side states their beliefs, first they must state their understanding of the other sides position.
The goal is to make this a deliberative process, not a contest. Although the formal questions and answers are what we record for the proceeding, the discussion by groups formulating questions and answers are a very important part of the proceeding. We want to allow that discussion among people with the same views plenty of time to proceed to an agreed upon question or answer. Moderators should feel free to move over to listen to that discussion (as should anyone else at the proceeding). Only if the discussion seems to be stalled should the Moderator interject to move the proceedings along. Moderators should also encourage each side to anticipate possible answers to their questions so they are prepared with follow up questions when the time comes.