So, what is “Practicing Democracy” really about?
We live in a world with many serious challenges that confront our communities and nation – rising unemployment, climate change, congestion, affordable healthcare, and global economic competition and political unrest, just for starters.
We also live in communities often divided by class, race, age, culture, and political ideology where people want mainly to communicate with like-minded neighbors and members of their own groups. At a time when serious issues need serious discussion, our understanding of one another is at a low point, our ability to talk frankly with our diverse fellow citizens is constrained, and what often pass for dialogue are shouted sound bites. Is this any way to run a country and provide a promising future for our children?
A strong democracy requires an equally strong civil society where the obligations of citizenship matter, where interest in public affairs is important, and where engagement by all citizens is necessary. Using the humanities (history, literature, philosophy, and ethics) can help improve the skills and knowledge needed for these tasks – asking the important questions, seeing issues in a broader context, more fully understanding other’s perspectives, and reflecting on one’s own viewpoint and values. As importantly, citizens must be given an opportunity to actively engage with neighbors, learn from one another, come to understand one another better, and hopefully, find areas of common ground.
MHC’s newest program, Practicing Democracy: Seeking Common Ground, seeks to bring diverse people together to discuss important civic issues by using literary, historical or artistic works as points of departure, employing humanists as facilitators of civil, stimulating conversations, and, hopefully, leading participants into sustained civic engagement. Out of these public conversations should come a more capable citizenry who can address our common challenges with pragmatic approaches that are broadly supported by the public at large and that foster a healthier, more vibrant society.
So what do you think? Are you interesting in attending Practicing Democracy programs? What issues are important to you?
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