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May 14th, 2015 by James Russell

Why Read and Discuss ‘Engaging Voices’

From discussion leaders Sally Van Vleck and Jim Crowfoot

We look forward to discussing this book with you on May 19th at Horizon Books on Front St. in TC.

We encourage you to read as much of this book as you are able and please come even if you have not read the book!

Reading and discussing this book is an opportunity to step back from our own strongly held perspectives and ideas to consider “why it is so hard for us to talk reasonably and openly to people who disagree with us”, particularly over what is to be done about our socio-environmental problems. (Gottlieb, 2011) Whether the problem involves climate change, water pollution, species loss or proposed developments like new bypass highways and housing projects or educational requirements for environmental literacy, there are opposing views, conflicts and opportunities to learn from and influence each other.

How can people and organizations with very different perspectives and positions talk respectfully with each other and, in the process, learn as well as build rapport?   More specifically, what experiences have each of us had trying to do this?   What have we learned?   What can we do individually and collectively to communicate more effectively, learn from each other, and better appreciate each other while we seek to collaborate?

To examine these questions Gottlieb has written fictional accounts of 7 (Chapters 1-7) describing interactions among diverse people with conflicting values, ideas and priorities. Each of these conversations is about a different topic related to the environment and in each, the people involved vary from strangers to co-workers to family members. In some of these accounts, the participants are activists trying to work together, while in others they are trying to share their views in an informal social setting and in still others, the participants are trying to persuade each other that their own views and priorities are the ones that should be adopted by the group or individually by members of the group.

Reading and reflecting on Gottlieb’s different stories can enable you to experience and reflect on how you react to the involved characters and their views and .the interactions that that are taking place among them. Based on your reading we suggest you consider answering the following questions:

  • Are any of the characters like me? If yes, which one (ones)? How is she/he like me?
  • Which characters do I disagree with and/or dislike? And why?
  • If I was involved in the particular account described by Gottlieb, what would I say or do to contribute to the interactions that are taking place?
  • What do I suggest would make what is taking place in a specific account described by Gottlieb more satisfying for all the participants and contribute to improving the level of respect and trust among the participants?
  • How can we apply our learning from this book to our individual behaviors, to the groups we are members of and to our communities?

If you have very limited time to read we suggest that you begin by reading one of the following chapters:

Chapter 5,  “Whose Woods are These?” (pp. 111-136): This story is about a group of strangers who meet each other on a hike and get into a discussion about each other’s views about the relationship between the environment , science and ultimate values including religions.

Chapter 3,   “What Is to Be Done?” (pp. 63-90):   This story is about an activist group and its members who have been seeking to protect a wetlands.   They are in an escalating conflict with other contending groups and this along with personal concerns are influencing individuals’ commitments and ideas about what to do next.

Chapter 4,   “Pass the Turkey,” (pp.91-110): This is a story about a family home for a holiday meal whose members get into a discussion about socio-environmental change and what is necessary to bring this about.   Each person has established different roles and perspectives that they hold deeply as individuals and differing feelings about what this means for their family.

Please join us on Tuesday, May 19th at Horizon Bookstore at 7:00 PM! Sally Van Vleck and I are hoping that the conversation will be relevant and useful as we addess issues in our own communities, families and workplaces.

–Jim Crowfoot