Talk about politics ...

Donna Lane
Issue Date: 
August, 2019
Article Body: 

Are you comfortable having political discussions these days? The Norwood Conversations Group was started in 2017 after Donald Trump was elected president. Families and friends who were once close were now either not speaking or saying hateful things to one another. It seemed that discourse was getting uglier and uglier. It made marypaz very uncomfortable and she was determined to try to do something about it. Or, at the very least, to try and understand it.
Since marypaz (yes, that’s her legal name just as you see it – one word all lower-case letters) did not vote for Trump, she wanted to try to understand why others did. And she wanted it to be a conversation where people really listened to the other person’s point of view, with no shouting or name-calling. Just people interacting with one another to gain a better understanding of each other. In her own words:
“This group is for people with different political views. I would like it to be a forum where folks feel safe to share their views in a polite and considerate atmosphere, where we can learn from one another, and not feel pressured to change views, and not feel under attack. The current political climate has become so hostile that conversations have become difficult, if not impossible. We seek comfort from like-minded individuals. I want to know what others are thinking, and why they have made the choices they have. I hope to interest other people in meeting to listen to varying viewpoints, and to share personal political stances. Pro-Trump, anti-Trump, anti-government, Druids... all welcome, with the understanding this group is NOT for proselytizing or condemning, but rather for sharing beliefs. Maybe some fractures will be healed in the process.”
She realized that it would be difficult to get diverse opinions in Massachusetts because of its heavily Democratic demographic, but she wanted to try. That’s when the Norwood Conversations Meetup Group was born.
In the beginning, it wasn’t easy getting people with diverse opinions to the meetings.
“Many showed up but they were mostly liberal leaning,” marypaz said. “I didn’t want the meetings to be a gripe session; I could meet a friend at the local pub and share complaints over a beer for that. What I learned is that when many people of the same opinion were together, that’s exactly what the meeting turned into – a gripe session.
Eventually, we attracted a group who voted for Trump. There were some liberals in the meeting, but it was more balanced than the previous meetup. People felt comfortable expressing their opinions. It seemed that the primary reason these people voted for Trump was his economic policy. They believed his policies would benefit them personally. They were not interested in the “border,” but when questioned about it, they felt liberals want open borders. When asked about climate change and environmental issues like stripping away protections that had been put in place for the benefit of all Americans, they admitted that they had very little knowledge – or interest – in the topic. It was a very eye-opening discussion and one of the most successful meetings.
In another meetup, we discussed Citizens United, and at yet another we discussed gun control. At both meetings there were people on both sides who held very strong views. On gun control, one of the attendees said they didn’t believe in it. ‘If I want to buy an oozie, I should be able to buy an oozie,’ he said.”
marypaz also scheduled a meetup to discuss Norwood’s override where Barbara Hopcroft and Debbie Holmquist presented opposing views and attendees asked questions and commented afterward.
“That format seems to be the one that goes over best,” marypaz said, “and I’ll try to arrange more like that in the future.”
In general, meetup topics are chosen based on hot-button issues of the day. Sometimes marypaz will ask other members to come up with topics. There are 60-70 people who signed up for the group, but marypaz said “it’s the same 4 to 6 who always show up regularly.”
The meetings are held monthly at the Norwood Library and are open to the public. The last meeting was held July 31 to discuss Climate Change and Immigration: Different Sides of the Same Coin? The question discussed was: Are closed borders going to work as more and more people flee from the catastrophes created by climate change?
Moderating these meetups is a new experience for marypaz. This Norwood native is an artist by training. But she has been taking classes from the University of Arizona on ways to conduct civil discourse – learning to listen to one another.
If you come to these meetings – and marypaz sincerely hopes that you will – you should be prepared to explain your personal biases; that is, tell the group WHY you believe what you believe.
“It can’t be just a gut feeling. It must be based in fact,” marypaz said. “And be prepared to not only listen, but really HEAR what other people say. And above all, you must be civil to one another. Hostility has no place in this group.”
If you think you’d be interested in attending a meeting, visit for the next event posting. A future question that’s being contemplated is: Should Donald Trump be impeached?