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January 2016

Yes, Let’s PLEASE Have a Serious Conversation About Suicide!  Questions for the Public Conversation

Note:  The following questions and thoughts are my own, Jacob Hess, and not necessarily representing the larger writing team, which is currently collaborating on various “maps” for this and other issues arising out of our own disagreements as a team. Erratum – Diane Oviatt was misquoted in an earlier version of this article.  A correction has been made, and I apologize for the oversight.  

Starting earlier this month, several in the LDS progressive community began circulating reports of 32 teen suicides that had taken place since the gay marriage policy clarification.

While the numbers were passed along second and third-hand, the underlying implication wasn’t left to anyone’s imagination: these deaths are clearly the Church’s fault…

This is not the first time such an accusation has been made, and it most certainly won’t be the last.  One person wrote that particular attitudes in the LDS Church were responsible for “killing another generation of beautiful Mormon youth.” Another mother recently stated that “there are graveyards full of young Latter-Day-Saints” who have tried to fit the LDS narrative.  She went on to talk about her own son’s attempt to do so, despite how he felt about his true nature, as “a lie that backed [my son] into a suicidal corner,” thanks to “the shame and self-loathing that his religious doctrine and culture imposed upon him all those years.”

These are deadly accusations about a deadly issue. If there was ever a question deserving careful scrutiny and thoughtful conversation, this is it.

And I’d seriously love to see that actually happen…

But instead of doing the hard work of listening across different perspectives, it’s turning out to be much easier to simply pass around insinuations of ‘the awful truth’ online in an outward rippling of outrage.

“This is unbelievable and the church continues to preach hate” responded one.  “I am so, so angry”…said another on Facebook.

And who wouldn’t be upset if this was all true? That the very church calling itself by the name of Christ was actually responsible for some of these deaths – with “blood on its hands” as some adamantly insist…

If that’s true, then we should all be marching.  But what if it’s not true? What if the responsibility for what is happening is much more complex and multi-faceted than can be distilled into another viral Facebook post?

And this leads to my first question for those involved in the conversation:  Are you open to pursuing the full truth on this question – even if you don’t like the answers?

That’s a sincere question I would pose to everyone in this conversation, including religious conservatives. Compared to the self-affirming echo-chamber within which more and more of our lives play out, I’m convinced the full truth about this (and any question) is going to take a very different kind of conversation – one where we allow our most precious convictions (mine included) to be challenged and scrutinized in the light of day. Are we open to that? (you and I both?)

If so, my next question is this:  In all the recent talk of suicides, why is so little attention being given to a medical literature that now includes nearly 13,000 research studies touching on risk factors for suicide?

As a depression researcher myself, I find it curious (and troubling) that this documented array of complexity is rarely mentioned by those raising concerns…

And so my question is simply: why not?

It’s worth realizing that by no research or academic standard would a simple causal factor be seen as responsible for any given suicide – even those that appear to have an obvious instigator (see below). That may be the one thing that everyone in the suicide literature actually agrees on:  taking a life is an inherently complex matter (even when it seems simple).

That’s probably one reason the excellent guidelines produced by the Trevor Project and collaborators, “Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations” discourage any kind of simplistic sharing when it comes to suicide, noting that “Some coverage…has oversimplified or sensationalized a number of the underlying issues, and in some cases may have created the potential for suicide contagion risk.”  They go on to say:

  • DON’T attribute a suicide death to experiences known or believed to have occurred shortly before the person died. The underlying causes of most suicide deaths are complex and not always immediately obvious. Making hasty assumptions about those causes, even when based on comments from family or friends or media reports, can result in statements that are later proven to be inaccurate. Don’t risk perpetuating false or misleading information by jumping to conclusions about the reasons for a particular suicide death. Also, directly attributing a suicide to bullying or another negative life event can increase contagion risk among vulnerable individuals who have similar experiences.
  • DON’T normalize suicide by presenting it as the logical consequence of the kinds of bullying, rejection, discrimination and exclusion that LGBT people often experience.

Kudos to Caitlin Ryan, Kendall Wilcox and Jay Jacobsen for being vigilant about continuing to remind people of these considerations.

Despite these efforts, some seem more focused on getting ‘the truth’ to the world, rather than creating conditions of a productive conversation.[1]

In fairness, once again, I would probably be doing the same thing if I believed my progressive friends did about identity, sexuality, biology, choice, change, God, eternity – and suicide itself.

But I don’t.

Are you open to exploring together other potential explanations for some of the numbers we’re seeing?[2]

In hopes of inviting a more productive conversation about these suicides, I list below four factors receiving virtually no attention in the current U.S. and Utah conversations about suicide (whether for teenagers or adults):

1. America’s depressogenic lifestyle. Researchers at Clark University and the University of Washington have argued that America’s average lifestyle is literally “giving birth” to despair – almost like a perfect “petri-dish” for depression. From a typical diet of low-nutrient, high-additive “food” and ongoing high-sugar drinks to regular habits of sleep deficiency and physical inactivity to an accelerating lifestyle that leaves precious little time for contemplation and mental/emotional rest…it’s hard not to agree with them! The brain can only take so many ‘insults’ before it gets pushed over the edge. Is it time for a public health approach to mental health, where we talk about the collective risk burden that is pushing so many of us (gay, straight, right, left, men, women, young, old) to the edge?

2. Digital and pornographic colonization of American life. Whether teen or adult, all Americans are now swimming in an environment unlike any before faced by previous generations. In addition to the sheer volume of digital stimulation (that everyone agrees is rewiring our brain), we’re living in a highly pornographic and sexualized environment. And this isn’t your “father’s porn”; a surprisingly high amount of porn that teens are consuming these days is violent, aggressive situations that depicts pleasure arising from acts that most humans (of any perspective) would consider degrading and objectifying. The darkness, despair and depression associated with compulsive digital consumption, to say nothing of compulsive pornography consumption – is increasingly acknowledged.

And yet, when depression or anxiety arise in our youth or adults, almost universally our cultural response is to somehow fight against the emotional pain itself in attempting to make it “go away” – often without serious (enough) consideration of many of the root risk factors that give rise to deeply painful moods.[3]

3. Personal and social upheaval. For many, religious communities provide a powerful set of protective factors against some of these very toxic patterns in the surrounding culture. But what happens to these protective structures when a teen comes to identify as LGBT? These protections can quickly melt away – and not simply because religious people suddenly become hostile.  The philosophical shift alone is profound.  Describing his own coming out experience, one person said:  “All [previous] teaching about my identity…was WRONG!  I had so many ideas of what I thought my life was going to be like, and who I was going to be, and how I was going to be that for the world and those people that I loved and had grown up with. And as I grew up and as I figured out more about myself and who I was, I began to realize that that person that I had been raised to be was not who I actually was” (FB-KA, italics mine).

What role do these kinds of wrenching shifts play in de-stabilizing individuals – especially young ones?  Other accounts describe the “dream for me ever since before I was born” laid aside (FB-RU) or walking away from everything one had been taught to value such as a mission, marriage, the Church itself:  “When that happened, the whole world sort of came crashing down” (FB-BE)

Another parent described what many individuals feel in the process: “I had to re-examine everything I had previously thought…It upended my notions of truth, happiness, obedience, loyalty, and in fact all that I held dear, including my perception of the character of God….All of my beliefs have been upended and rearranged.”

What impact does this kind of a profound upheaval have on mental health – this veritable ripping-away from one’s theological moorings?  However we might disagree about the necessity or wisdom of this upheaval (some might call it an inevitably painful, but necessary process), people from various perspectives might agree that this might represent a crucial risk factor for suicide (well confirmed by the medical literature as well).[4]

4. Seemingly Impossible Futures. Personal conflict is almost universal for teens growing up with same-sex attraction. When someone comes out and identifies as LGBT, some report a reduction in personal conflict moving forward. For others, however, this same move to identify as LGBT actually exacerbates the conflict further – to where it becomes profoundly paradoxical and even more impossible to reconcile – “a sharp, painful dilemma” one man called it, “with the contrast in teaching about the church” (FB-CH).

The implications for mental health and de-stabilization to the point of suicide are apparent in people’s own stories.  After coming to identify as gay, one man spoke of the challenge of having “two conflicting identities.”  He reflected, “I realized why people get depressed, and suicidal because you’re constantly trying to resolve something that’s irresolvable” (FB-TI). Another added, “It’s hard to even go day by day. Not knowing how you’re going to reconcile this about yourself, how you going to create a life that is happy in any way” (FB-H).

Whereas these kinds of feelings and conclusions are almost always interpreted as clear evidence of the harm of religious conservative teaching, it’s also reasonable to look at the profound conflict itself (between religious conservative and progressive views of sexuality) as centrally driving the pain and confusion.

From that vantage point, both sides of the conflict might bear some responsibility – including both the old identity/life narrative and the new identity/life narrative.  For instance, a third individual spoke of messages he had been getting that “this is just who you are and you just need to be yourself and be gay” as contributing to his desire to kill himself – specifically “not knowing that there were other options.”

One progressive man’s recent essay reflects a striking example of the verbalized dichotomy that many LDS teens experiencing same-sex attraction certainly now hear all around them in progressive American culture:  “Today, the message to LGBT Mormon youth is clear, and it’s a bleak Sophie’s Choice: either resign yourself to life of celibacy, or be ejected from your church and family — for all time and eternity. Regardless of which option Mormon youth choose, they lose.”

I’m going to say it, dear author:  This is irresponsible talk…and for someone with your knowledge base, it also feels a bit dishonest (two options only…really?).

Rather than a personal critique, I say this for the same reason you’ve written what you have:  the welfare of these teens.  And I hope you realize that from one perspective, this kind of ‘damned if you do/damned if you don’t’ rhetoric may well be contributing to some of the very pain that these teenagers we all care about are facing.

Want to make a teen in the LDS Church despair? Convince them that who they are demands either acting in violation of their most sacred convictions or living a life not quite as enjoyable as “those who have lupus.” As one person said, “I figured if I couldn’t have the life I wanted, and the life I could have from what I read wasn’t conducive to the gospel…then my only option was to kill myself.” (VH-DEC)

Lack of options, hopelessness, no viable future = a deadly cocktail by any measure.  In a broader mental health context, I’ve described this as “learned hopelessness.”  Can we at least agree to leave possibility and options open (yes, more than two…yes, even options you and I might disagree with)?[5]

Think of the strength of our common ground right now:  the value and welfare of precious human beings…especially the children.

Perhaps the ONLY thing that could possibly get in the way of us finding together some real answers…is, well, a narrow, deformed conversation.

So what do you say:  How about a broader conversation about suicide – one that opens itself to various explanations, independent of whose biases they confirm?

This doesn’t mean you can’t believe the Church bears significantly responsibility, just as I will continue believe the same about the progressive activist community.  It means we’d actually come together to hear each other out – staying open to thoughtful, good-hearted people looking at the same numbers, the same stories and seeing something very different going on.[6]


[1] (A conversation that could actually get to the bottom of this problem).  And yes, I have the same concern about my own tribe – religious conservatives who can be so eager to share the truth with neighbors, that they make precious little time to actually hear the story of their neighbors.

[2] No, Lisa, numbers never ‘tell the story’ alone…the truth is, all numbers require a story-teller. That being said, I found your piece this week quite powerful, generous and helpful.  (My only slight quibble being that my feeling is we need to have more discussion – rather than less – if we are to get to the bottom of this).

[3] In an earlier version of this article, I also attempted to summarize the conversation around anti-depressants and suicide risk (since anti-depressant narratives are a central research interest).  But I felt unsettled about attempting to do so in one paragraph – especially given the many ways brief commentary on such a sensitive topic could be misconstrued. Given the enormous complexity of that topic, I opted to remove it as something deserving of more independent and extensive exploration in the future.

[4] Even satisfied post-Mormons speak of ‘post-traumatic church syndrome’ – reflecting real mental health consequences associated with someone choosing to leave a faith or reexamine their entire world-view.

[5] In the mental health world, I’ve seen that sometimes the existence of possibility is the only thing people need to keep going.  To my mind, then, it would and could be a huge step forward if we all agreed to represent what others in the conversation actually thought about these crucial, life-and-death questions. That conversation may not be as “effective” for our various causes or campaigns – and it may feel uncomfortable to not simply have our various biases confirmed. But don’t these questions deserve the highest quality of conversation?  Isn’t that something we might agree on?

While we’re at it, maybe we can stop pretending that conservatives think gay people “choose to feel attracted” – and pretending this is the only way of thinking about choice? Can we also stop insinuating there is only one way of thinking about the body’s role in sexual orientation – and implying that anyone with questions are somehow automatically hateful and less compassionate?

[6] Where each side could say “yes, that really does represent what I think.” To help support this conversation, our diverse team at Flirting with Curiosity is creating a collaborative “map” to help guide a productive conversation.

Recruiting a Team: Flirting with Curiosity in the New Year

 “Dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s depositing’ ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be ‘consumed’ by the discussants” – Paulo Freire

I’ve always known I couldn’t do this project alone.  The whole point of this effort has been providing infrastructure for a broadened dialogue.  And by definition, “authentic dialogue” must entail “the bilateral, free and un-manipulated engagement of at least two persons, two unique perspectives and ultimately two distinct agendas.” In addition, “the moment a space becomes, in actuality, a site for unilateral, instrumental and manipulated engagement, it arguably ceases to be dialogue.”

Despite positive intentions, this kind of subtle manipulation can happen in writing-about-conversation just as much as it can in conversation itself.  Either way, this falls short of an important standard in the world of dialogue and deliberation – and one I take very seriously.

And what is that? As Kadlec and Friedman (2007) have summarized, healthy conversation settings – especially on contested issues – share the following feature:  “no single entity with a stake in the substantive outcome of the deliberation should be the main designer or guarantor of the process” (p. 7).

So far, I’ve been the main designer of this series of first draft “maps”[1] that I’m hoping can support more productive LGBT-RC conversation.  It’s time for that to change.

While this felt like the  right first step for me, I’ve always seen it as just a beginning.  After all, even after reviewing hundreds of stories, comments and articles, I only have one pair of eyes.  And as much as I have earnestly tried to hear out and understand diverse views and perspectives, I still only write out of my own standpoint.  

That means blind-spots – natural limitations in what I alone can see and do.  As a crucial next step in this project, I’m excited to recruit a team to provide accountability for a nuanced and sufficiently complex finished product.

Recruiting the FWC Team. Starting today, I will be recruiting other writers and thinkers with an interest in bolstering this LGBT-Religious Conservative conversation – expanding the Flirting with Curiosity project to encompass a bigger team representing diverse life experiences, political persuasions, sexual preferences and identity constructs. The goal will be to achieve, in qualitative research lingo, a “maximum variation” sampling of perspectives and views.

But hold on, now:  In a group with this many differences (aka disagreements), what would be the point?  How is a group so ‘at odds’ supposed to do something together, let alone write something half-coherent?

If not for my own past experience with other collaborative projects, I would be skeptical as well.  But some of my favorite and most powerful writing experiences have all involved intense disagreement among the various authors.  For instance, in a paper on contested views of mental health recovery, it was hugely helpful to have both the conventional and critical psychiatric views.  And in another related project, the Red Blue Purple Dictionary, I’ve found the diversity of our team not only helpful, but essential and even indispensable to achieving our writing goals.

And I feel the same way about this project.  As I wrote more about recently, the purpose of this writing effort is creating the opposite of the homogenized echo-chamber that is coming to characterize Tribalized America – experimenting with a larger infrastructure within which people with real disagreements can not only come together, but do so productively.

In order to get there, I’m looking for a team that can embody and practice together the very thing we’re inviting the broader audience to do:  Flirt. With. Being Curious…that there is More to Understand (and Many Things we Still Don’t Know!)

To date, I’ve taken a first stab and put out my best ideas, based on what I’ve read across narrative comments and understood in past dialogues.  Now it’s time for incisive response, revision, critique, correction, upgrades, additions, subtractions, deletions. Essentially, it’s time to make this a real dialogue text – one reflecting the voices and insights of many people on the authorial level (and not just in the textual voices I’ve tried to juxtapose and map out in the writing itself).[2]

Uniting this team, amidst our substantial differences, would be a shared commitment to high-quality conversation that involves intense respect for each others’ humanity.  This does not mean we would necessarily resonate or even ‘respect’ each other’s ideologies or philosophies or beliefs-about-anything…but it does mean we’d agree on (a) the basic value of practices that bring different ideas and beliefs together in a generous, open-hearted interplay that teaches, presses and stretches us all and (b) the possible benefit of creating a text that helps encourages and foster that kind of exchange more often.

Getting to the finish line. THAT is the Dream Team [1] I’m looking for, a trusted group of confidants to help drive the next phase of Flirting with Curiosity.  From where I stand, I’m envisioning at least three phases (open to other ideas):

  1. Audit, improve and upgrade the “maps” to date. Review all the question “maps” posted (7 so far) in a shared Google-document that allows each person to change, edit, upgrade and revise anything that needs to be improved; the goal in all the changes would be to better reflect the true nuance and complexity of the current conversation between LGBT and religious conservative communities.
  2. Review additional maps considered for posting. Additional maps (at least 23 still to go) would go through a similar process of review and collaborative input – including what future maps to prioritize.
  3. Unite energies and insights in the final book product. Join forces towards finalizing a hard-copy text that synthesizes and integrates all maps in one place – drawing larger implications for the current and future U.S. conversation between the LGBT and religious conservative communities.

Arthur Pena has been my main confidant and critical accountability partner to date, to date. I’m looking to add voices that span various angles of additional diversity.

This won’t be merely some kind of an approval or review committee, where people nuance or finesse the text a bit this way or that.  All team members would have access to raw data and many files I’ve been working from, with a significant voice in revising or correcting or upgrading or deleting anything that they spot as ‘not quite right’ (or way off).

Bottom line:  Those who join this team would have wide leverage to help shape this project and make it something you can call “yours” as well…

Is that you? See if this describes you:

  • Someone with a passion for not only LGBT questions and/or conservative religion – but for the future of dialogue between the two.
  • Individuals road-weary of the way conversation has gone – and locating a hunger in themselves for something better…an ache that they feel this project may help satisfy (for them and others).
  • Individuals more committed to the quality of public discourse, than simply who “wins” the conversation (even if practical/policy issues still legitimately matter to all of us).
  • People willing to spend time writing, revising, honing, analyzing – and with the stamina to become part of a team that brings this book to press by the end of 2016.

Over the course of the year ahead, the work load would vary from week to week – without ever a linear commitment of “X hours per week.”  If you’re so busy that you can hardly imagine adding ‘anything else’ to your schedule, this may not be for you.  I’m hoping to find people willing and able to make space in the year ahead to help finish a collaborative book project – with their name on it.

If that describes you, I’m dying to hear from you (okay, I’ll live…but seriously, I’m sitting by the phone).

Start with sending me an e-mail about your interest – where you’re coming from, why this kind of writing and work draws you, etc. (at – and let me know a number to reach you.

After formalizing a team, we’d pick a time to all connect on Google-hangout together.  Details of team size and working process will be finalized at that time.[3]  Feel free to forward this to others who might be interested.  Thanks!


[1] This is the term I’m using to refer to the series of question-centered documents where various interpretations and responses are laid out, followed by the likely implications of each interpretation in actual practice.

[2] On one level, I’ve already sought for this to be multi-vocal – in the format of juxtaposed narratives and narrative excerpts throughout.  But on another level, it’s still mostly me writing it!  That’s what will be changing.

[3] I was thinking of 8-10 people as ideal – although I’ve seen twice as much really power other projects forward. I’m open to different sizes of a team.


What motivates this dialogue project? Part I

As I’ve written more about contrasting narratives shaping this particular conversation, one of the questions that I’ve heard is “what exactly motivates this all?” This usually comes up with some suspicion about what drives me, but that doesn’t bother me at all.  Transparency is a good thing.

It’s true that sometimes in the dialogue field, we intentionally step away from saying a lot about our own standpoint, in part because the primary aim of dialogue is seeking understanding of someone else (rather than spouting off your own stuff). But at some point in a healthy conversation, it’s helpful to hear what motivates everyone involved in a conversation…including facilitators.

So what about me?

In the broader culture, religious conservatives-like-me-who who get involved in this conversation have been labeled somehow sick or screwy for wanting to “interfere or control people’s lives” – as if somehow not saying anything would be the most appropriate thing to do.

The overriding reason and motivation for speaking out in this blog is exactly opposite of “controlling” others – or limiting freedom in any way. To my mind, the current conversation is what effectively limits freedom – interfering with and controlling people’s lives in subtle, but significant ways.  In both the broader framing of the conversation – and how we end up engaging it – everywhere I look, I find a high-pressurized vacuum that seems to be working against freedom (on all sides).

If that’s true and if we want to preserve (and grow) people’s freedom to choose what is right and best for them, I’m convinced we need this kind of a conversation-about-the-conversation.  Even if you disagree with my own views, I’ll bet we agree on some of the larger trends in our nation’s public discourse.

Problems with the status quo conversation.  In Bill Bishop’s instant-classic sociological text, “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded America is Tearing Us Apart,” he documents how, in nearly all aspects of life, we’ve become less connected to those who don’t share our views – in the churches we go to, the clubs we join, the neighborhoods we live in.  Instead, we are “sorting ourselves” into insular groups as we read, listen to and spend time largely with people who agree with us.

As Liz Joyner, national director of the Village Square, puts it: “We’re increasingly choosing to associate only with our ‘tribe’ rather than bravely disagree face to face. Bunkered up at home with information sources that serve as a virtual amen chorus for everything we want to believe, we can’t seem to tolerate the people we used to share town meetings with.”

In this conversation about gay rights (as with many other topics), my experience is that in 90-95% of instances, it’s people talking with other people who agree with them.

And on one level, of course, this isn’t a problem. This is one reason we gather in communities – to share and unite with others of like-minded commitments.  That’s a healthy thing!

On another level, however, when like-on-like communication becomes the dominant norm – to the exclusion and endangerment of more diverse connections – it starts to get a little creepy (at least to me).  And the research backs this up – showing increasing polarization that happens in like-minded conversations.[1] What’s more, how exactly are we going to learn anything new while living in silos – or find out if and when and where we’re wrong?

That’s another thing that motivates me big time: truth. I want people (myself included) to have the highest possibility and likelihood of discovering what the truth of the matter – any matter, all matters – really is.  Clearly, whatever issue we’re talking about, we’re going to disagree on what ‘the truth’ is (and whether it even exists).  But even then, perhaps we may agree generally speaking on healthier (or less healthy) processes for helping us approximate that truth, decrease error, multiply insight and expand collective wisdom.

How do most online measure groups measure up against those criteria?  My experience of most online groups – Facebook especially – is aggregations of people who have come together around some passionately-held central commonality or commitment (whether on the Right or Left).  While there is a relief and excitement in “meeting others that think like us,” I’ve watched over time how interactions between those like-minded souls can concentrate all the so-called evidence of one’s “rightness” in one place – resulting in a feeding frenzy that incessantly confirms “our rightness” (while, of course, supporting their “wrongness”)..just what we were hoping to believe.  How convenient!

Long before the echo-chamber of Facebook groups blessed our lives, however, Francis Bacon observed hundreds of years ago:

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects; in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate (Novum Organum, 1620)

Scientists now call this “confirmation bias” or “confirmatory bias” (or “myside bias”), defined as “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.”  Studies have found that the effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs – where our tendency is to confirm our existing beliefs or perform “tests” that are one-sided and which subtly prioritize one perspective and diverting our attention away from alternatives.  Even when two people have been exposed to the “same evidence,” they have found disagreement becoming more extreme based on selective interpretation and emphasis within the evidence.

Interestingly enough, both sides (and all sides) in a given hot topic typically do this!  And I’m not sure what you think – but it’s a little screwy wherever it happens!

So how do we combat such a strong psychological tendency?  What methods are the best “confirmatory-bias-busters”?

Comparing methods to overcome confirmation bias. As much as randomized-controlled trials (RCT) and other structured scientific studies are held up as the gold standard for revealing truth, as the author of an RCT, I can tell you one thing for sure:  they are messier than they look.

There are 100 ways that personal biases can influence the conception, design, execution, documentation and analysis of any given study – including the most controlled of the lot.

So instead of pretending to be outside of the influence of human bias, what if we just acknowledged those biases – and brought them into an open and transparent exploration, side by side?

Enter:  dialogue.  As I said before, I’ve come to seen open-hearted, open-minded dialogue as among the best “methods” for revealing the truth of the matter…not by somehow establishing THE truth to all present in the room.

But instead, by inviting us all to dig a little deeper – reach a little broader, and challenge our own assumptions (even as we invite others to inquire)…collectively inviting us together to inch towards THE truth (or A truth) – however incremental our progress.

If nothing else, an open dialogue space exposes ourselves to others’ (best) ideas and (most compelling) arguments and (most precious) values in a way that we might just actually hear and give them a fair hearing.

In the process, we come to see our own passionately held convictions and ideas as, yes, one way of thinking – alongside others that do exist.  This chance to consider our own narrative critically allows us to “test” our ideas – and decide what we really believe.  Even while welcoming participants to hold their truth claims with equal passion at the beginning and end of a dialogue – this gives us an opportunity for movement:  growing more convicted in something – or even less.

Is that scary?  Or refreshing?  How does this compare with going about our lives surrounded by faces and Face-less comments that only confirm and affirm what we already know.

Could that be the scary thing?

I think so, at least.

If I’m wrong – goodness gracious – I want to have the greatest possible chance of seeing it. And for all of us, I’m convinced we’re going to be less likely to ever find our own blind-spots if we’re living in a self-reinforcing echo chamber.  More than simply an intellectual limitation of constraining our capacity to “see new ideas,” I’m convinced the restrictions become very practical as our freedom to choose other possibilities shrinks.

As long as we’re stuck in our own story – without an awareness of any other, there are limited possibilities ahead. And this, in turn, can have substantial consequences for our real lives, since we don’t just tell stories – we live them!

That’s the first reason I do this writing.  To invite, advocate and call for more spaces where we expose ourselves to the best thinking of our “adversaries.”  The quickest way to make that happen, to my mind, is to start by doing it in writing – illustrating how exactly contrasting ideas can be juxtaposed in the best possible light.

That’s why I write.  It’s been my motivation in all my years of mental health work – from contrasting Prozac narratives to recovery narratives to “successful outcome” narratives.

It’s why I’m working on the Red Blue Dictionary with a fantastic group of collaborators – and why we do what we do with the Village Square.

It’s about Freedom.  Of exploring ideas.  And exploring life possibilities.

That’s my first motivation in this work – and one I acknowledge many (not all) who disagree with my specific convictions do generally and genuinely share.


[1] For example, group members of the same nationality who start out by disapproving of the US, and are suspicious of its intentions, will end up with greater disapproval and suspicion after they exchange points of view. Roger Brown, Social Psychology: The Second Edition (New York: Free Press, 1986), 206–207.