All Posts and Musings

Political Understanding Starts with Conversation

Introduction:

At the end of April, before graduating from Creighton University, I along with three other students put together an event called Continuing the Conversation. This was in response to the problem of a lack of healthy discourse that we saw at Creighton, although it happens everywhere. I will outline some of the problems that come with the current method of opening up discourse (aka speaker events) and then discuss our event which tackled the problem differently.

All throughout the United States, people are seemingly unable to have a civil conversation with their neighbors who may have radically different views than them. As with many other institutions, Creighton attempted to tackle this problem by bringing in speakers with different views in order to have an open political discourse. One event that had high expectations was a dialogue between Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, and Tom Kelly, a theology professor of Catholic Social Teaching from Creighton. While there were good intentions behind the dialogue, our key observation was that two speakers immediately divided the crowd into tribal like camps where points from the other side weren’t truly heard. I think the most telling moment from that event was a point where Charlie Kirk said that the U.S. is becoming a much less racist place because we elected a black president. There was an outbreak of outraged laughter from some of the students which Kirk immediately pounced on and the members of the audience were shut down when they tried to respond. Now that is a very complex statement to unpack and while it may seem that the U.S. is becoming less racially divided on the surface there is plenty of data to back up the idea that it isn’t and good arguments can indeed be made for both sides. Unfortunately, those kinds of discussions do not happen in a speaker to audience environment and because of that I think there are two negative outcomes. The first and obvious one is that the person in the crowd speaking up doesn’t feel like they were actually heard by anyone. This lack of a true conversation and attempt to consider the views they are putting forward just leads to more animosity between the contributor and speaker and in turn it cranks up the tension in the room. The second outcome is that an outraged audience member simply reinforces the views that the two different sides come with. In the scenario about racism in the U.S. there were a number of people who looked outraged that someone could remotely even compare where we are today with where we were in the Jim Crow era. Without any explanation from the other person this resolve hardened into an immediate dismissal of the other side as, “crazy liberals who can’t even use their eyes to see what’s around them.” I could see this entire transition happen in about five seconds in the body language of the guy sitting next to me. After leaving the dialogue I didn’t feel at all like I empathize with the other side and I didn’t want to have a real conversation with anyone who thought differently because of all the negative energy I had built up.

Our Response:

It was this lack of real conversation that became the foundation for how we approached the Continuing the Conversations event. We set up spots for 100 people grouped into tables of 10 and when a person walked into the room they were randomly assigned into one of these tables. The random assignment was meant to keep friends away from each other and give each table a diversity of opinion. At each table, there was a moderator whom we pulled from the faculty at Creighton University as well as from the graduate program in conflict resolution. The moderator’s job was to move the conversation along and ask questions when needed at the tables. They went into the event knowing that they would not be putting forward any of their own opinions as a moderator. After students were seated we gave a small introduction and then ran through a short stand and be counted exercise. The stand and be counted activity was meant to be a short icebreaker to gauge what believes that everyone was coming into the room with. We asked a mixture of easy questions such as, “Are you stressed for examinations?” and harder questions like, “Have you ever felt uncomfortable sharing your views?” The goal was to show that despite differences in views everyone shares things in common with others in the room.

We then proceed to the main portion of the event, the questions. The design for the questions was to provoke people into talking about their own experiences and how they viewed the world because of those experiences. Before the discussions, we did a quick straw poll through a text in service called Poll Everywhere. This poll was meant to gauge the room at large and we displayed the results to everyone. We then dived into the discussion question and spent 15 minutes on each topic. The questions we used were:

  • How do you see and feel privilege in your life? Are there systems set up to help you or hinder you as you see privilege?
    • We defined privilege as a concept used for certain rights or advantages that are available only to a particular person or group of people
  • What are rights that everyone should have? What is the most important right that you feel you have? Have you ever felt any of your rights violated?
  • How do you see the government in your life? What ways are you concerned about the government and what ways are you hopeful?

Results:

In almost every way this event was a major success! The discussions at the tables were diverse and being in small groups allowed for each participant to feel that their voice was heard as well as actually listen to what others had to say. Our moderators did a great job of moving the conversation along and the polls at the beginning of the question were a good way to begin/transition into each new topic. 32 students attended, which was many more than I had hoped for given that we put the event together in 15 days and held it on the Wednesday before finals week. There were a number of students who also came forward at the end to express interest in coordinating more events for next year and my hope is for them to be run on a monthly or bimonthly basis.

Changes:

No event is perfect and while I couldn’t be happier with how this turned out there are definite ways to improve which I am sharing in case any readers are interested in running their own event like this.

  1. When reaching out to moderators I would attempt to get moderators from both sides of the political spectrum. While moderators were meant to be impartial I think having more conservative moderators in the room would have allowed conservative students to feel more comfortable sharing their views.
  2. Set aside some time for the groups to introduce themselves to each other within their small group table. I think giving the moderator some icebreaker questions to ask everyone as they were entering and sitting down would have sped this process up.
  3. Make sure you know if it is easy to text in the room where the event is held. There wasn’t great cellular service in the ballroom we occupied which didn’t allow some to text their answers into the polls.
  4. Advertise the event as being for individuals to come to share their experiences. We reached out to the political organizations on campus to advertise and some people thought they would be representing their organizations if they came which made them uneasy. This wasn’t our intention but we didn’t communicate this clearly enough at first.

Going Forward:

I would love to hear about more events like continuing the conversation happening everywhere. This could be done at other universities, in the workplace, or even in the neighborhood you live in! This event was a wonderful way to promote understanding between others and humanize the voices that we so often vilify. I encourage you to take action and look for ways you can do something like this. To help with the legwork attached to the bottom of this post are all the materials we used for out event including our proposal to the administration of Creighton, the moderator and participant materials, and the script including ground rules.

Acknowledgments:

This could not have been put on so quickly and successfully without the wonderful Nina, Ed, and Caroline. Creighton’s administration also moved mountains for us particularly Katie, Molly, and Patrick. Finally, Dr. Guidero and the conflict resolution program were rock stars with getting us materials and recruiting people. I am so humbled to have been able to work with such incredible people!
Proposal

Facilitator Tips for Difficult Conversations

Participant Tips for Difficult Conversations

 

I Gave A TED Talk!

Before I graduated from Creighton University, I had an incredible opportunity to present at a TEDx event hosted by the University. I started thinking about the theme talk because of a comment made by an old Jesuit priest while he was leading a class on Ignatian Spirituality. He said, “Fear of the future comes from believing we will be a failure in the eyes of ourselves or others.” As soon as he said that I sat up and immediately thought, wow that’s great advice… except how do you define failure and maybe success while you’re at it? With that thought in mind, I crafted the talk looking to put forward the questions I asked myself in order to define those terms.

For a TLDR* here are the three questions I put forward:

  1. What is an experience that has made an impact on me and how can I live that out every day?
  2. When am I most happy and how can I maximize those opportunities?
  3. What does success mean to me?

I had about a 45 days to write and prepare for the talk. If you ever find yourself in a similar position I have some advice to share. The talk was much better because of edits made by my two brothers. I created a google document and shared a working draft of my speech with them for feedback as I was writing and practicing the talk. I also made a deliberate effort to raise my heart rate as I was practicing. My strategy for this was to run around a track and say the speech over and over as I jogged. I would also sprint and then stop and immediately say a random couple paragraphs from the talk.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I highly recommend that you think about what you would give a TED talk about if you could talk about anything. Perhaps one day you’ll have the chance to try out for it!

Brian

*TLDR is internet slang for Too Long Didn’t Read for those who have never had the pleasure/misfortune to browse on Reddit.

My Personal Mission Statement

After many revisions and much reflection, I am proud to present the working version of my personal mission statement!

I will live a simple positive life seeking community with others. I will continually learn, I will connect with things unfamiliar and reflect on my experiences.

In thinking about how I measure success there are a few different metrics that I wanted to make sure I was measuring myself up to. I’ll talk about each of them and why I think they are so important to my idea of success and happiness.

Simplicity: I define simple living as being very aware of the impact that I make on the earth and those around me because of how and what I consume. I’m a big proponent of the minimalist movement and I subscribe to psychological theories and studies showing that wealth only increases happiness significantly when it raises people out of poverty. With that in mind, I do my best to avoid using plastic, showering less, biking instead of driving, cooking at home, using reusable containers and water bottles, and only buying something that I believe will add a tremendous amount of value to my life (this deserves a post all on its own). Some thinkers and communities who have tremendously influenced me on the ideas of simplicity are: the Nazareth and Jerusalem Farm communities, Mr. Money Mustache, and Trash is for Tossers.

Positive: When I was thinking about how I defined success for myself I started reflecting on the value of approaching situations with gratitude, understanding, and open-mindedness. For me, this is encapsulated in the word positive. A quote attributed to a great many people that always held special meaning for me is “Be kind for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” When I hear this I think about my own parents who both died of cancer when I was nine years old and all of the challenges that came with that. Everyone is struggling with something that to them can be all consuming and when faced with that kind of struggle I think the only way I can ever approach a person or situation in my life is to be grateful for everything that has gone right for me and then hopefully inject positivity into the life of someone else.

Seeking Community: I believe that the strongest forces of support in my life come from a community and I have seen this over and over again in everyone I have encountered. Sebastian Junger’s book: Tribe  and Yuval Harari’s book: Sapiens are wonderful pieces grounded in science and observation that make a compelling argument for the power of community to affect our daily lives. Personally, my favorite experiences have all been done with others whether that is playing board games, reflecting after a day of service, or sharing a meal around a table of good friends.

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(Weekly Board Game Night I attend every Thursday at the local Donut Stop.)

Continually Learn: reading, listening, and writing about new ideas and perspectives is something that I place a tremendous amount of value on. I seldom go a week without listening to a new podcast or discovering a new blog that I can devour. I think many people become turned off from the idea of reading more after they are done with their formal education. This seems to me to be on of the worst things about formal education because there are so many incredible ideas and understandings of the world waiting to be explored that are many times more engaging than anything I have learned in a classroom. Reading or listening to a wide variety of sources is a metric I want to hold myself too which is why it was so important to me to include a line in my personal mission statement about it.

Finally, Connect and Reflect: One of the unfortunate ideas that hardline identity politics seems to put forward is that you can’t begin to understand the lived experience of someone who isn’t the same race, political party, or gender. While there is a kernel of truth to this, I’m not about to let that prevent me from trying! In thinking about powerful values that I want to make sure I measure myself up to in my life I realized that connecting with others and reflecting on my experience has to be one of those. I spent the summer of 2017 on a service immersion program in Peru. spending six weeks in an impoverished community was powerful because of the beautiful people I was able to connect with. Just as powerful was the reflection both as an individual and as a group that I was forced to do as part of the experience. Asking myself why an encounter was sacred to me and how I can take the experience with me made it so that I didn’t come back to the United States and forget everything I had been privileged to interact with.

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(A passerby snapped a photo of me eating lunch with Troy in the streets of San Fransisco despite his outward appearance he is one of the most positive people I have ever met ) 

So there is the long and unpacked telling of my personal mission statement. I like it because for every situation I encounter I can ask myself if I interacted with it in a simple and positive way. I can also make sure that I make it a priority to seek community and continually learn. Finally, I can judge my personal success by how I have connected with things unfamiliar and reflected on the experiences. I highly encourage you to find a way to measure your own actions and values and I think the best way to do that is to start here! 

Have a Wonderful Day!

Brian

Podcasts for Personal Mission Statements

I love podcasts! Podcasts have pointed me towards an incredible variety of new ideas and it makes me feel like I’m a part of a conversation with amazing people who would otherwise have no reason to talk to me. Some of my favorite places to listen to podcasts are during car rides, cleaning the dishes, and while on a walk during a nice day.

Brené Brown on Vulnerability  Listen from 5:05 – 15:15

Story Corps on passion and purpose

Tony Robbins on Achievement vs. Fulfillment: start at 41:00

Story Corps on Callings 

On Being: With James Martin 

Terry Crews: How to Have, Do, and Be All You Want

 

 

 

 

 

Required Materials

First things first, I’ve linked a google doc of my Personal Mision Statement Packet for you to use in whatever way you would like. This document will walk you through all of the steps of making your own personal mission statement.

Personal Mission Statement Packet

Additional materials 

Funeral Exercise

Friends Exercise

Ted Talks for Viewing

Readings for Understanding 

Podcasts for Listening 

Ted Talks for a Personal Mission Statements

There are countless amazing and perspective-altering TED talks on the internet and in no way does this list represent all of the stories that could help you build a personal mission statement. However, I do think these represent a good place to start so feel free to enjoy as many of them as you wold like!

This first talk asks you to understand how incredible of a world it is that you live in and to appreciate the many small amazing moments that are found every day.

This talk is about the longest study on happiness ever performed that was run over the course of 80 years. It found that friendship and relationships are the strongest predictors of happiness. How do you create relationship and community in your daily life?

Scott Dinsmore started the Live your Legend movement and in this talk, he focuses on putting yourself in a position to achieve freedom and enjoyment in your work.

This is a talk from Derek Sivers, an expert musician, philosopher, and entrepreneur. In this part of the talk, he lays out why it is important to find out exactly what you want and then focus specifically on that. His examples are money, fame, and freedom but there are many other things to focus on.

This short talk asks you to redefine leadership as a way to change someone’s understanding of the world.

Finally, This incredible talk by Brené Brown asks you step outside of your comfort zone and practice vulnerability in your daily life.

First blog post

What does success mean to you? How do you find happiness in your everyday life? How do you understand, communicate and empathize with others? These questions and more are what this blog will seek to explore (definitely not answer). My name is Brian Boerner. I’m a 22-year-old soon to be graduate from Creighton University in Omaha Nebraska. I started this blog to promote a personal mission statement program that I started while in my undergraduate at Creighton. I think that personal mission statements are an excellent way to start thinking about these questions of happiness, success, and understanding. I also think they provide a guide and reference that you can always look back on and compare to see the ways in which you have changed as well as a checklist to make sure what you are doing is meaningful to you.

Soon after starting the blog (and consequently not doing anything with it) I went to Peru on a service immersion program led by several professors from Creighton University and Loyola Chicago. Placing myself in service to the many incredible people that I met in Peru was a wonderful lifegiving experience that I plan on exploring in posts to come. However, the main idea that I took from Peru was that there are not enough stories shared about the lives of real people. Hence since one of my goals with Project Humanize was to promote my understanding of others I decided to make it a goal to share stories of people that I meet in my life and while traveling.

That seems to cover all the basis for what I will be exploring in this blog. I’m sure it will constantly evolve and change in scope but that is the gist of what you can expect while reading this.

Have a wonderful day!

Brian