October 2020

Welcome to CivicList, an independent newsletter to build community and uplift voices! In this edition I include:

  • My gratitude for voter organizers
  • Resources for you to community action today
  • An interview with Dirk Liedig, founder of the United States of Listening
  • A bit of art
  • A quote by Walt Whitman 


First, Gratitude

I'm so grateful for friends, neighbors, and family members who have committed to phonebank, write letters, and register people to vote. Even one hour a week helps. 

Take Community Action TODAY 
What’s missing? Send me your civic action opportunities: matt@civiclist.org
Building Community with Dirk Liedig
"I’m very much fascinated by bringing back the village into our fragmented lives.” 
This month’s CivicList features an interview with Dirk Liedig, who I met at my teacher apprenticeship at Wild Earth. Dirk is co-founder of LifeLabs LearningMNGFL.org, and now the United States of Listening. You may watch the interview here or listen to it here. 
What are you curious about these days?
What a good question to start with. I think I am most curious about staying curious. I’m really curious about confirmation bias. I'm curious about staying human and letting other people stay human. A thing that's been on my mind a lot has been the othering of others, building false ideas around people who are not in our in group. It's very prevalent currently where we create the stories that support our stories. I’m curious and I am invested in things to realize we're in this same big boat of life. 
What is confirmation bias and how you combat it?
We kind of see what we want to see. We hear what we want to hear. Nowadays we're also served what we want to see and hear. That's part of our social media diet. This is the first time when what we look for is going to be shown to us more often. It just deepens the ideas that we already have and it decreases diversity of thinking of ideas, of exposure, and just makes us feel actually more insular. It creates differences artificially.

To combat confirmation bias, the first step is awareness. The idea of labeling it as confirmation bias and being cognizant of me, myself, being somebody who is going to look for things I already know or already like. The second step is to respond to it in willful, rather than a superficial or automatic way.
How do you build community?
Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where at the bottom, we have survival, and then comfort and shelter and just above that is the need for socialness. Actually it's the only internal need that has physical impact on us if we don't feel socially connected, we actually feel stress and pain and it can shorten our lives and our well-being. I believe that this is an area that needs a lot of attention because people are not living the communal lives that we were built to live. We grew up in villages until about 100 years ago. Everything was smaller more concentrated we had bigger families. Aunts and uncles raised kids. The idea of the village-- I’m very much fascinated by bringing back the village into our fragmented lives.

A year and a half ago we started this space and place and community called MNGFL, and this was basically a place for experiments. Experimenting with how people prefer to come together socially to feel enriched by the experiences-- to play, to exchange, to learn, to stretch, to have adventures  together.
What are some of the questions that you found most helpful to help people get into each other’s lives and to help build that social fabric?

The thing I really particularly like is storytelling. One thing we would do is--especially people who are new with one another--asking them to tell their story in a very specific format. The specific format, the storytelling is a three-part question that each  person answers. The first part of the question is “What was your story so far?” The second part is “what is your story now?’ and the third part is “what will your story be?” Now there's a little twist to this question, too, and that is that you answer the question by talking about yourself in the third person. It frees you from some of the judgments that you might normally have against yourself, and you might be more open and more sharing. This is an example of a of a question or a group of questions that leads to really quick rapport with people who you might not know well, and a level of intimacy and vulnerability and openness and fun and experience with one another.

I really like that “what's our story so far what is it now what it will be?”. It's a nice kind of counter to a lot of the introductions that we do. It kind of elicits this resume response, like “Just give me your LinkedIn profile.” So I think it helps us dig deeper. And the third person allows us to maybe reflect a little bit more. The “what was your story so far?” reminds me of another similar exercise my friend Tim Cigelske talks about in his book The Creative Journey. It was an exercise to write your obituary [more on this in the audio/video interview].
What's the United States of Listening and how can people get involved?

I was wondering what could we do to make people feel more connected. The idea is to have ambassadors to the United States of Listening. All they need to do is they need to find somebody who's from the other political conviction, and that person gets asked two questions, and the person who invited them is the listener to those two questions. At the end of the conversation which is limited to 10 minutes, both people just shortly extract the needs. The listener will just list the three or so needs that they heard the other person express. The talker will list the three needs they think they expressed. That's it. 

What are those two questions? 

The first question is “what will improve for you personally if your candidate is elected?” Question number two is “what do you fear will happen if your candidate isn't elected?”

What's a small scale action we could take today?

Give people compliments. They should be genuine and thoughtful so they will do something for the other person-- the receiver. They also do something for ourselves because they shift our focus towards where we direct our attention. It's like a miniature gratefulness exercise, because the moment you give somebody a compliment, you're expressing gratefulness, and you're shifting your focus to something that you appreciate. It goes both ways. It's one of those wonderful things that just have an impact. It's the magic one-fix-all.

"VOTE" at a community garden