Getting the ‘Conversation’ started

Oregon Humanities Conversation Project promotes listening and sharing ideas

The current heated political climate has highlighted the many differences that exist between individuals across the country and in the Florence community. The issues that divide people can appear at times to be insurmountable. One solution to this problem, and to most others, is to talk about it.

The process of listening to others, even those with wildly different perspectives, can and often does bring people together.

That is the premise behind The Conversation Project, a program sponsored by Oregon Humanities. Siuslaw Public Library has twice brought the  program to Florence.

Discussing differences is one of the main objectives of the Conversation Project, according to Adam Davis, executive director of Oregon Humanities. Davis feels talking may lead to an understanding and an appreciation of the concerns with those whom we disagree.

“The goal is to get Oregonians from differing perspectives to communicate and connect while discussing issues that matter to them,” Davis said. “We think it strengthens communities to talk about the tough issues, even if we continue to disagree.”

The Conversation Project is an ongoing series of discussions from a menu of 30 topics selected for their relevancy and topicality. The conversations are taking place across the state in libraries, schools and other public places that request speakers.

Both forums hosted by Siuslaw Public Library have had positive results.

Last week, the library presented food writer Jennifer Burns Bright, who focused on the sometimes-confusing paradigm surrounding seafood, its quality, scarcity and future availability.

Bright presented information on the various aspects of the seafood industry that affect Oregon consumers and commercial and recreational fishermen. People who attended Bright's presentation asked pertinent questions and actively participated in the conversation.

Siuslaw Library Director Meg Spencer said the number of  topics covered by the Conversation Project allow for an interested group to ask for a specific speaker to address an issue that is important to that area.

“The library hosted a Conversation Project event with Nan Laurence about ‘A City's Center: Rethinking Downtown’ that had a great deal of relevance in light of the ReVision Florence project here in our area,” Spencer said. “And in the case of this most recent conversation, Bright was speaking on a topic of great interest to our area, seafood.”

Most areas can request a speaker on the issues that resonate in their location.

“One of the strengths of the Project is the fact that communities across the state can contact us and bring a speaker into their community that will be able to speak about an issue that is important to them,” said Davis.

The format of the conversations was designed to encourage attendees to share their relevant experiences and to actively listen to the presenter and the other voices in the room.

This is an intentional and important aspect of the series that creates an advantage for those listening and speaking.

“We have literally hundreds of organizations from across the state that have participated in the project, holding conversations with some variations, depending on their location, that have resulted in starting a dialogue between people with different opinions and perspectives on an issue,” said Davis.

The goal of the project — initiating conversation — has been achieved, according to Spencer.

“The Oregon Humanities Conversation Project is unique because it is exactly that, a conversation. Everyone who attends is invited to participate in a discussion about important and interesting subjects with topic experts,” Spencer said. “It is a really special opportunity to hear from friends and neighbors who may have the same or completely different opinions about what you are discussing.”

For more information or to view conversation topics, visit grams/conversation-project/.

Siuslaw Public Library is open to all requests for future discussions from local residents.

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