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Sender: Steven H Johnson
Subject: Defining the "field"
Date: Sat, May 17, 2014
Msg: 100991

Hi everyone -

Can we "define the field" of transpartisanship? That's the question of the month, and I'm guessing we won't be done by the end of May.

Three different perspectives occur to me - transpartisanship as a method for mediating disputes among leaders within the current partisan context - transpartisanship as a method for developing wiser and more mature policy options - transpartisanship as a method for mediating disputes among grass roots activists

I think all three approaches are necessary, but I don't know that they constitute a single field.

I'll start with the second. What strikes me - in all the issues I follow - is the wide gap between contemporary partisan perspectives, on the one hand, and the perspectives one would have if we were better at getting to the bottom of something. I'm yet to be impressed by the way liberals and conservatives go after such issues as Social Security, School Reform, or Energy and Climate, let alone Sustainability. Too much fuzziness of thought, too much willingness to go for soundbites rather than solutions.

In a culture of superficial answers, one is hard put to find great thinking in either party. Modern civilization is in a difficult state just now? Who leads us through the discussion we need about the future course of modern civilization? Who grooms the genuine grown-ups that modern civilization needs as its leaders? Hardly anyone. Can we afford to coast? Well, no.

Developing a civic culture of genuine wisdom seems to me to be part of the calling of those who have a transpartisan spirit. Many conservatives would like to see a wiser approach to conservatism, many liberals would like to see a wiser approach to liberalism, and neither group is likely to mature as well as it could without transpartisan dialogue.

Back to the first choice - dispute mediation.

An easier way to define the field is to think of it in conflict resolution terms. Existing disputants need help from those who bring a transpartisan spirit to the issues at hand, and to the participants engaged in those issues. Some on this list will be familiar with the Mont Fleur scenarios developed in South Africa, described by Adam Kahane and others. One example worth noting was the Wolf Summit in Alaska, about 1995, when facilitators from CDR (Boulder) at the Governor's behest helped bring together a broad spectrum of stakeholders to wrestle with an issue of "too many wolves, too few caribou." There are many more.

Under the right conditions, policy disputes can be mediated. Transpartisan approaches can boost the willingness to mediate.

Not everything yields easily to transpartisan massage. The Simpson-Bowles commission has had rough going, though there do seem to be tidbits of progress emerging from the deal-cutting spirit it advocates. And then there's a third choice - grass roots dialogue among activists of different views.

I'm guessing that facilitated dialogue is usually more fruitful than something less structured, but I'll leave that judgment to those who've already had considerable experience with such work.

My vote would be to frame transpartisanship in a way that explicitly includes each of the distinct missions that will go further when carried on in a transpartisan spirit. Will that be a "field"? Probably two fields, or three. Not just one.

Best to all,

Steve Johnson

Steven Howard Johnson - Civic Futurist 410-562-0361 Book in Progress: Thoughtful Patriotism


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