“How do you get people to be willing to come together across differences and really connect?”

When someone asked me this question recently, something about the way it was asked caught my attention. I suddenly focused on the “willing to come together” part. Much of the focus seems to be on trying to find a magic formula for difficult conversations. But I hadn’t really dwelled upon the part that comes first: 

Why would people come? 

I suddenly remembered a piece of wisdom I received from a great mentor of mine: the author Tillie Olsen. In addition to her acclaimed literary contributions, Tillie was at heart a community organizer. I brought a community problem to her: a particularly nasty conflict was developing in a church community I was working with and I was trying to get them to work together. 

Her advice was this: “Give them something good to do together.” 

And this memory connected with Parker Palmer’s sage notion: “When all of our talk about politics is either technical or strategic, to say nothing of partisan and polarizing, we loosen or sever the human connections on which empathy, accountability, and democracy itself depend. If we cannot talk about politics in the language of the heart…how can we create a politics worthy of the human spirit, one that has a chance to serve the common good?” 

Conversations about issues, about political positions, about solidly held opinions will always be polarizing. They require people to put a stake in the ground. But it starts by finding ways to talk about what we have in common. When we find the common good we want to bring to our communities together, we may loosen the gridlock we find ourselves in. 

Here’s an example of people speaking heart to heart that I love:

How do you bring the language of the heart to your communities?

All best,



Terasa Cooley
Executive Director

P.S. Courage & Renewal programs offer places and practices where you can connect with yourself and other people to explore life’s big questions. 

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