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Personal Stories Diffuse Political Polarization

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Mantle Project is Nabil Laoudji’s effort to combine compelling stories with the kind of deep dialogue that creates human connection. The project is named for the layer beneath the earth’s crust and the goal is conversation that penetrates beneath the surface of conventional rhetoric. It is influenced by the observation of psychotherapist Carl Rogers who believed "what is most personal is most universal.”

Members of Mothers for Justice and Equality, a group that campaigns against violence, and people from the West Springfield Firearm and Knife Show have very different attitudes about guns. The Mantle Project, together with the Public Conversations Project and the Christian Science Monitor, will bring them together April 11 to delve into the stories and experiences that have shaped individual views.

A Christian Science Monitor story by Allison Terry tells how Laoudji’s last Mantle Project got members of the Tea Party and Occupy Boston to exchange their stories together on the same stage in front of an audience.

Christine Morabito, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, gladly accepted the invitation to tell her story, but soon realized the stump speech she prepared wasn’t what Laoudji was seeking. He pressed her to look deeply into what had shaped her beliefs. She mentioned that she had attempted suicide in her early 20s. Laoudji pressed her to probe that. In the aftermath she felt completely dependent on other people, and she said she hated it. She began to work on personal responsibility. With that focus, the Tea Party mantra appealed to her. Another speaker, Tammy Weitzman, told of racing home in terror as a child in Tel Aviv after two men shot up a bus and her school was closed. She realized she had been taught to fear people who were not like herself.

When a political conversation began among people in the audience, Laoudji told the Monitor, "We started from a very different place because we had already been open and listening and understanding each other.”

He also describes a discussion between business students and Occupy participants, who recognized they probably harbored stereotypical views of each other. One protester speculated that America’s reluctance to confront mortality makes us cling to habits and systems, and could have been a factor in bailing out troubled banks, rather than allowing them to fail so something new could emerge.

Putting stories and civil sensibilities together may not change views, Laoudji says, but finding common ground is more likely when people understand why others believe what they do and those with opposing views aren’t demonized.

Laoudji’s life experiences instilled a passion for reconciliation. He was born in Tunisia to a Muslim father and a Polish Roman Catholic mother who fought about religion. His parents divorced when he was six, and he moved to the U.S. with his mother and sister. He founded the Mantle Project a year ago after graduating from the MIT Sloan School of Management. He also works with the MIT Community Innovators Lab and has conducted interviews with dissidents in Tunis, where the Arab Spring began.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  culture  politics 

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