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speak-upOn this New Years Eve, I suppose it’s natural for folks to go over the last 12 months and see what went well and what didn’t, where we went wrong and what we would do over again if we could.

Going through old e-mails, I ran across a Steve Brawner piece that fits my take on the whole of 2013.  In it, Brawner discusses the 2002 “Speak Up Arkansas!” event focused on using study circles to improve state education.

Brawner asks

What if average citizens were asked basic questions about other pressing issues and then given a chance to express themselves and listen to each other?

For example, what should the United States do about immigration?  If diverse Americans were to gather to discuss that issue, the results would be far different than the ugly tone that debate usually takes now.

Likewise, what should the United States do about the national debt?  Average citizens gathered around a table would create more solutions and a healthier dialogue than today’s hopeless finger-pointing has produced.

The current system incentivizes discord, not discourse.  To put it simply, the more we yell at each other, the more likely some people are to get elected and the more money some people make.

And we would add, “and the more the focus becomes the disagreement and not finding as solution to the real problem.”

Our hope here for 2014 is not about Obamacare, immigration, or the national debt.  It’s about simple respect for differing viewpoints.

Simple respect means refraining from name-calling and defensive attacks, and truly listening so we can discover a “starting point” — somewhere we can all agree.  We can never hope to solve the massive problems America faces today if we cannot even have a conversation with each other.

Brawner ends his piece by exhorting us to change the national discourse, saying “Those of us who want something different must speak up.”