Recognizing the importance of individuality and diversity in our perspectives builds our connections. Inherent to our being is social connectedness. Spanning borders and cultures, present among all ages, races, and genders, human beings are profoundly shaped by social bonds and relationships. Whether within our community in Jacksonville, Florida, or in the United States, our sense of belonging and social connection is reinforced by our shared values and common purpose. What happens, then, when our community becomes so comfortable that we forget that other people, other communities, are defined by values and purpose that may be vastly different than our own? Prejudice? Judgement? A lack of understanding or patience? Our recent TEDxJacksonville salon, “Civil Discourse: From Discomfort to Meaningful Dialogue,” was the first of its kind for us at TEDxJacksonville. Providing a more interactive experience, attendees were separated into small groups and asked to engage in open, honest conversations focused on how connected or disconnected they felt to their communities. Attendees were also encouraged to share personal opinions regarding the recent removal of Confederate monuments and memorials. The ideal outcome of this exercise was to drive thoughtful conversation, cultivate tolerance and empathy, and ultimately to recognize the importance of individuality and diversity in strengthening our community. 38979009350_d0221b8635_kAs we navigate through our current political tensions, shifting demographics, and even technological advancements, many people are left feeling completely connected or disconnected from their community. We’ve become accustomed to a visceral, almost subconscious attachment to our opinions – it’s hard not to feel defensive when your opinion is questioned or your beliefs are challenged. It’s far easier to surround yourself with people whose thoughts align with your own than to engage in a discussion where active listening, empathy, and understanding are essential. This salon reminded us that our personal opinions and beliefs do not have to be universal. It’s OK to have a unique opinion on politics, on religion, on the removal of Confederate monuments, but it’s paramount we practice patience and open-mindedness. Vulnerability is difficult, awkward at times, and even more challenging with a group of individuals you’ve never met. With diverse backgrounds and experiences, our worldview is intimate and sharing it with strangers can be daunting. We saw this vulnerability firsthand in each of our conversations that veered from political to personal, disappointing to encouraging, and funny to hilarious. If this group was representative of our community, it is apparent that the willingness to listen and appreciate the perspectives of others yields empathy in its truest form.  The salon brought tears, laughs, and hugs, and reminded us all what we have in common: a love for our community and the desire to make it better. We are social creatures. Shared values and common purpose define communities but the focus on understanding unfamiliar perspectives, the bravery to share opinions, and the opportunity to empathize are the foundation. By Miya Kusumoto
  • CivilDiscourse1“You can’t progress as a society when you have this kind of [political] asymmetry. It’s impossible.” Here is Arthur Brooks’ TED2016 talk, A conservative’s plea: Let’s work together, that was shared at our salon.
  • Take a look at the photographs from our “Civil Discourse” Salon here.
  • Ready to take action? Join us in participating in Better Together Day, a national day of action and speaking up against intolerance organized by Interfaith Youth Core.