Village Square wins highly competitive national Knight Community Information Challenge Grant

Tallahassee, Fla., – The Community Foundation of North Florida, in partnership with The Village Square, recently received a $72,000 challenge grant to revitalize the dialogue among the city’s diverse residents around community issues. The project entitled “We the People” will create a 21st Century virtual and face-to-face public square by offering unique town hall forums, in addition to constructive online engagement through a community problem-solving Wiki. The project’s goal is to renew Read all »

50-state Civility Tour: National Endowment for the Humanities Chair joins The Village Square

“The temper and integrity of the political dialogue are more important for the cohesiveness of society than the outcome of any election.”–Jim Leach

Join us for this special opportunity to talk with NEH Chair Jim Leach on Tuesday, January 12. Find details and RSVP HERE

According to Luke: County Fairs, Town Halls, Tailgates, and Tea Parties

Somewhere on the path to the Tea Parties and Town Halls of today where
civility is left at the door, we forgot about… well, civility.

America was founded on the idea of the community. The first tea party was a bunch of our ancestors dressing up like Indians and showing King George just what we thought about his taxes. Americans were united, for a cause. From that famous tea party in Boston, to town halls all across the Northeast, we learned to listen to each other, and began to realize that maybe the people who thought differently than us weren’t all that evil. (If the Greeks could do it in robes and sandals, surely we could!)

In the south, county fairs served as the main social event of the year. Once
a year the fair would roll into town and people got together to ride rides,
eat some good southern cookin’, and check out the show on Friday night. They baked pies to sell and put on their best pair of jeans with the hopes that maybe some southern belle would catch their eye. County fairs turned into political platforms. Candidates for local and national office would stump on the stage in between acts. People from all across the county came out to listen to what they had to say.

We used to read newspapers; we used to join bowling leagues and the PTA. We used to have bake sales and lemonade stands. But then something happened. This brand new thing called the television came out, and all of sudden we could find out everything we needed to from the comfort of our own home. We could watch the shows we wanted to and listen to the people we agreed with, and we could even ignore the people we disagreed with.

Then we started demonizing the people on all those “other” channels. We the People, became Us vs. Them. We assigned red or blue colors to friends,
families, and neighbors. We gave 30 second blurbs to each side then let them argue for the next 20 minutes. All of sudden the great American Democracy looked like an elementary school playground.

Today, at Tea Parties and Town Halls we’d just rather yell louder than
someone with a different view than actually listen to what they have to say.
County Fairs are no longer the great social gatherings they once were.

Tailgates are the last great American neighborhood. That’s right, tailgates. On Saturdays in the fall, tailgating means having a party with thousands of your friends. It means seeing old buddies and making new ones. College campuses are full of makeshift tent communities, where there are no privacy fences separating neighbors. It’s just a bunch of folks having some drinks, grilling out and actually talking to each other. If a fan from the other team walks by, you may trade the occasional barb, but it’s all in good fun. Come game time you leave your tent and chair unattended, hoping nobody bothers them, and for the most part they don’t.

Why can we come together around something like football, but can’t seem to agree about how to take care of the sick in our society? How come we feel no worry to leave our tailgate unattended but lock our doors and windows at night?

Bill Clinton once said that there is nothing wrong with America that can’t
be fixed with what is right with America. We didn’t forget how to be civil. We learn how to share and respect our elders growing up. We didn’t forget how to live in a community or the emotional rewards of having a unique bond with a complete stranger.

Sometimes we forget how to be grown-ups. I’m sure our founders weren’t
perfect either, but they were smart enough to remember that we are all in
this together. Win or lose, just like a tailgate.

So bake a pie, throw on your best pair of jeans. Sip some tea and put on that jersey, let’s go spread some civility!

–Village Square intern Luke Inhen is a Political Science graduate student at Florida State.

(Photo credit.)

Kathleen Parker thinks Village Square when Tom Brokaw asks her about a modern day John Wayne

Parker Kathleen

Last week in a forum at the Newseum in Washington D.C., sponsored by Characters Unite, a project of USA Networks to promote an appreciation of diversity, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker didn’t just mention us, she kind of called us heroes. You may watch it online HERE (this clip starts at 1:11:00):


Kathleen, is there somebody outside the political arena who the country turns to? Is there a modern John Wayne if you will. There was time when Colin Powell filled that role for a lot of people before he went into the administration. Oprah in her own way fills that role for a lot of people. Are there others out there that you know about or that we should be paying attention to that are not getting enough attention?

I would say this: The people out there who are doing important work are not known to us because they’re not celebrities and they’re not famous and they are doing very important work in their communities. And I’ll throw out just one name: A lawyer in Tallahassee Florida named Allan Katz has done something that I think is aimed at what we’re trying to accomplish here. He and another person formed this group called “To The Village Square” and they put together a board of half Republicans and half Democrats and they get together and have civil discourse about issues of importance. They have meetings, they have dinners, the public is invited and they’re actually moving forward with actually doing substantive things in their communities. But American character is a grassroots operation. It starts there. To sign a pledge is great, but to make anything happen you have to do something and that’s what they’ve done and it’s a wonderful prototype for what we’re trying to do.

Just another reason why you should help us raise our community match for our project We the People (donate HERE).

Two weeks from tonight: Village Square hosts “Allan Katz: The Roast”


We hope you’ll join us. We’ve got a fundraising goal and any small amount you can contribute can help us get there. Thankyouverymuch.

Hopeful study on social isolation

(Hat tip to the Knight Foundation.)

Previous studies had indicated that trends in technology have us growing more distant from our more diverse local geographic neighborhoods in favor of dispersed weaker electronic ties.

This Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community survey finds that Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks.

Question: How do divided communities come together to solve problems?

we the wiki web

ANSWER: They build a problem-solving community Wikipedia. Help us build one by making even a small tax-deductible contribution to our fund raising drive HERE.

Politics, Partisans & A Pint TONIGHT

politics partisan pint web logo flat small

September 11th and the gift of the Masai


There are always moments amid the wreckage of what is worst in the human race, when we see clearly what is best in it. Even on 9/11.

There were those who walked toward trouble to allow the rest of us to walk away from it – the fire fighters, police officers, and in the case of 9/11, EMTs and Port Authority Police. They, like us on that day, had other concerns. . . kids to raise, bills to pay, oil to change. They put it all down and walked toward the horror to help strangers. There were the people who found themselves on a plane in Pennsylvania with an opportunity to save people they didn’t know. They did.

But there is a story of human kindness from 9/11 you probably haven’t heard yet.

About cows.

The Masai tribe of Kenya had raised money to send their native son Kimeli Naiyomah to medical school in the United States. He happened to be in downtown Manhattan on 9/11. They didn’t understand the full import of what happened that day until months later when he returned to Kenya.

“What happened in New York City does not really make sense to people who live in traditional huts, and have never conceived of a building that touches the sky,” explained Ibrahim Obajo, a freelance reporter working in Nairobi. “You cannot easily describe to them buildings that are so high that people die when they jump off them.”

What then did the Masai do for the people in most powerful nation on earth? They gave us cows. “They gave what is truly sacred to them,” Obajo said.

Across oceans, across language, across culture, their gift could not have communicated more clearly to total strangers.

Today as we remember the senseless horror of 9/11, I can’t help but think that the task ahead of us has a lot to do with summoning in ourselves the generosity of spirit shown by those who gave “the last full measure of devotion” that day in New York, in Washington and in Pennsylvania. And it has something to do with summoning the kindness of the people who gave us cows. We have to keep walking away from the darkness of human nature exemplified by the terrorists of that day. It will require everything in us to not become the hatred and intolerance we’re fighting.

I think we’re up to the task.

And maybe while we’re at it, we can save a bit of that generosity of spirit for each other.

(The above poster is from

America’s new fairydust: “Motivated reasoning”

VW powered by fairy dust

In a study titled “There Must Be a Reason: Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification” published in the journal Sociological Inquiry, sociologists from four major research institutions looked into the high level of persistent belief in America that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were responsible for the attacks of 9/11, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The study results:

“Our data shows substantial support for a cognitive theory known as ‘motivated reasoning,’ which suggests that rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe…The study demonstrates voters’ ability to develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information. The argument here is that people get deeply attached to their beliefs.”

The researchers describe the observed pattern of motivated reasoning is a “serious challenge to democratic theory and practice that results when citizens with incorrect information cannot form appropriate preferences or evaluate the preferences of others.”

Ya think?

So, to recap… We’ve broken ourselves into feuding teams which are no longer making governing decisions based on reality but on what we want to pretend is true?


(Postscript: If you’re liberal and feeling smug right about now, then think again. You do it too.)

(Photo credit.)

Bipartisan Policy Center: Working Together to Reform the U.S. Health System

The Bipartisan Policy Center, founded by former Senators Bob Dole, George Mitchell, Howard Baker and Tom Daschle has produced a report called Crossing Our Lines: Working Together to Reform the U.S. Health System. The short version of the report offers very specific bulleted recommendations toward the end of the download. It’s worth a read (although – warning – it’s a bit wonky).

(Watch their video above for very Village Square-ish viewing.)

Chris Timmons: Discourse or just noise?


The project The Village Square is working on, referred to in the article below, is finding more voices from both sides of the aisle for our blog, to engage in a real conversation (unlike the ranting on talk radio or TV opinion “news” shows). We’re particularly interested in auditioning blogging teams of friends from different political camps. If you’re interested, give us a yell at We tried this first offline in the “real world” in our invitation to have a lunch across the aisle. It’s our way, as historian Patricia Nelson Limerick writes, to “let friendship redeem the republic.”

Chris Timmons: Discourse or just noise?
From today’s Tallahassee Democrat.

Two weeks ago, I had coffee with Liz Joyner, executive director of the Village Square, about a project she’s working on, and I enjoyed her passion for politics and ideas.

Yet there was this tincture in the discussion. I noticed a small distress, a weariness about the close-mindedness, extremity and partisanship of politics these days.

She pinned it on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Not in that liberal, nose-upheld NPR kind of way, but more earnestly and with profound regret. I felt her pain.

I’ve listened to Limbaugh only once or twice myself, much the same for Sean Hannity.

They have some function in this world, and for many people, I’d bet they have sparked an interest and, let’s hope, a passion enough to search out all views. Something in me is hoping but doubts it.

There’s demagoguery, obtuseness and silliness in some of their views. I chuckled at Limbaugh’s bizarre plan to sabotage Obama’s primary campaign in Pennsylvania, dubbed with the military craft cliche: Operation Hillary. Yet Limbaugh and Hannity, in a circumscribed sense most certainly, are great entertainers working in a crowded field of political entertainment.

Anyone who listens to them with the intention of getting something intelligent out of it is simply lost. But they have little to do with what’s wrong in politics.

It’s those in the higher journalism attached to small magazines such as the New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, Nation, American Conservative, Weekly Standard, Reason, Commentary and the National Review that offer not a principled defense of ideas but the false exploitation of ideas and a misuse of language that have a stultifying effect on political discourse and disarm thoughtful people like Joyner and threaten to disengage them from the process.

At least, after reading some of Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism,” I have come to feel this way.

Its title is cheeky, a reverse insult to those liberals forever calling conservatives fascists, which historically we have not been.

I felt redeemed once I read the title, and because Goldberg writes crisply and with humor, I was looking for a quirky intellectual history. I didn’t get that, because Goldberg decided to go for something much smaller.

He wanted to rebut every New York Times columnist, New Yorker staff writer or Ivy League academic who ever uttered the words “fascism” and “conservatives” together. Really, he wanted to sock Gore Vidal in the mouth, in a literary sense.

So, we get liberalism is fascism. No, it’s a cousin of fascism. No, really, it has a resemblance to fascism. Hey, look at Hillary’s devious phrase “It takes a village to raise a child,” or Barack Obama’s equally menacing “We are the change we’ve been waiting for.”

It’s obvious: Fascism is back!

As Richard Posner wrote about a popularizer of academic ideas: No serious reader could be persuaded by his books.

When words have no meaning, ideas lose their substance, since both require honesty and mutual agreement about their definitions. In Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey,” the know-it-all Henry Tilney lectures the heroine on her careless use of words and the word, in particular, “nice.” “Every time (you say), this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh it’s a very nice word, indeed — it does for everything.”

It may seem a conservative cliche, a backward way of arguing for small government, but part of this distortion of ideas and words, the meanness and small-mindedness of our political arguments, comes from our having too many ideas on the table. Create a concept, somebody once said, and reality exits pretty fast.

The pundits and politicians have forgotten the serious stakes that all of the ideas on the table carry. We’ve seen cap-and-trade rushed through the U.S. House, the call for a new stimulus bill (somehow the other didn’t do the job), and now a renewed call by the president for an expedited health care bill by October.

A Republican senator says this is the president’s Waterloo. The president cynically says Republicans are playing politics. Speaker Nancy Pelosi causally dismisses citizen’s concerns about a real and unprecedented power grab by the federal government.

It should surprise no one that, once ideas and words are scrambled only for effect and no one thinks thoroughly and thoughtfully about them, it’s easy to have four different health care bills, major miscommunication or noncommunication, spin and political calculation, inflamed citizens — and all the rest.

At the president’s news conference, for example, his bill was defined as an extension of the free-market concept. It is anything but, yet the president indulges in this because he knows that explaining ideas honestly doesn’t work in this political season.

In a letter, Mrs. Humphrey Ward chastises Henry James about his boredom and cynicism about politics. For her, politics and ideas are the “salt and sauce” of life. I’m starting to reject her views and embrace James’s.

To me, this unreasoning, vulgar, groundless, deafening and sapping partisanship is the “very measure of insipidity” for those who love ideas, politics and the village square.

Liz Joyner: Unhinged partisanship gets schooled

school roomWhile your favorite explanation for the partisan divide might be that the folks who disagree with you are dumb-as-dirt, turns out our current political environment may be a nearly inevitable result of certain sociological and economic trends – stir in a helping of behavioral psychology and, tada, we’re attending town halls with fistfights and swastikas.

Rewind to the middle of last century (screen gets wavy, cue up appropriate piano riff and fade to black and white)… Generation Happy Days was pleasantly ensconced in the suburbs, becoming members of the PTA, joining bridge clubs and bowling leagues. We flipped on the evening news at night and turned the dial to a choice of three stations. (Yes, for the kiddos among us there was an actual dial and it was hard enough to turn that you needed a running start.) We grabbed our local paper off the door stoop every morning and on Sundays many of us trotted off to our neighborhood church, one of a handful of denominations that were close enough to be kissing cousins. (Forgive the absence of synagogues in my story; I’m painting with broad strokes.) While we were growing economically comfortable as a society, reverberations of the depression kept our basic gene pool constructively austere. In the lives we led, we spent plenty of time with people who didn’t see it our way politically – they were our friends, our neighbors, even our spouses. We were busy having a national conversation; very much in keeping with the founders’ vision of America – we had turned diversity into strength, a balance for excess and a creative force.

But soon enough, American prosperity brought into existence a highly mobile populace that had forgotten about the depression, was no longer primarily concerned with mere surviving and naturally turned their attention to the “pursuit of happiness” portion of the American dream. (Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with basic needs mostly met.) So naturally, we moved to cities with a center of gravity we liked and joined groups plum filled with people like – well – us. Old-fashioned neighborhood, and the diversity it brought, wasn’t quite as fun as the newfound made-to-fit.

While we were busy custom ordering our lives, there was an information explosion befitting our increased desire to “Have It Your Way.” Now we had choose-your-news sources that we could tune into to bathe in the warm waters of agreement and oh did we ever love the warm waters of agreement (and we told them we liked it in the ratings so they gave us more and more). Our mainline churches began breaking clean in half as people left to worship with the people they most agreed with. New churches representing every stripe of individualism sprung up all over the map.

Unbeknownst to us, we were busy sorting ourselves into tribes. Think Shia and Sunni. 100 years of social psychology experiments are amazingly consistent about what happens next, and it is not pretty: Likeminded groups consistently grow more extreme in the direction of the majority view. In them, the fascinating phenomenon of the “risky shift” plays out: A group of homogeneous people will make riskier choices as a group than any one individual makes inside that very same group. Likeminded groups are veritable breeding grounds for extremism.

Now here we sit in the United States of “Those People.“ We watch TV opinion news to experience what Bill Bishop, author of “The Big Sort” (required reading), calls the “righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups.” We serve it up with a beer and munchies and the smug knowledge that everyone who isn’t on “our side” isn’t just wrong, they’re stupid and evil (and ugly to boot). It’s the mental equivalent of being a couch potato and leads directly to town halls run amuck.

(Photo credit.)


Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at