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Conversations build stronger community

By REVELYN RAWDIN

For the Hood River News

The National 4-H Council is celebrating its centennial birthday in 2002. As a gift to the nation they have initiated a series of conversations by, about, and for youth and our communities.

The culmination of these conversations will be projects, laws or other initiatives distilled from the national conversations. Their commitment to this idea is strong -- $5 million dollars, matched by another $5 million from Congress. Obviously they feel there is empowerment in conversation.

Last month Hood River hosted a "Teach-In" aimed at educating and conversing about the roots of terrorism. I opened my e-mail to find two more projects addressing the need for meaningful conversation:

* The Listening Project -- Listening to others is a simple sounding, yet profound way to effect social change, one by one. A group has been meeting to explore the possibilities of a Listening Project, and beginning to build close, warm alliances, celebrating our diversity and goodness and leadership capabilities.

* The January Commons Cafes Initiative: "Cafes For A New World, Coming Together To Envision Our Future In The Post Sept. 11 World."

For the month of January, we are encouraging people all around the nation and the world to engage in deep, meaningful conversations about our lives, our challenges and our future in the post-Sept. 11 world.

Obviously there are others who feel the power and importance in face-to-face dialogue. It sounds so simple yet there is an art to conversation -- well done it is powerful and empowering, poorly done it drives a wedge between people.

"I'm convinced that one of the tragedies of contemporary culture is that we've lost the dialectic ability. Instead, we consider disagreement impolite and messy, and to be avoided, even if that means we cloister ourselves in our own neo-tribal groups and never cross paths with those with whom we disagree.

We'd rather avoid one another and hold our separate rallies and events. Rather than engage in vigorous, respectful, well-informed dialogue, the habit of the 21st century American is to resort to attributing the worst of motives and an absence of sincerity to those with whom we disagree. Such ad hominem attacks often cloak an inability or a disinclination to logically argue (in the best sense of the word) one's own point-of-view." -- La Juana Decker

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There are many who now see the value, indeed the critical importance, of dialogue and exchange of ideas and perspectives. 4-H National Conversations, "Teach-ins", "Commons Cafe," and the "Listening Project" are some of the attempts being made locally and nationally to encourage a return to respectful sharing of ideas and discussion amongst people of different persuasions.

Differing opinions regarding letters to the editor often attack the letter writer instead of the idea. It is little wonder that many folks are reluctant to express their views publicly.

I like sharing ideas and perspectives that challenge my own perceptions and beliefs. When people listen respectfully, growth, empowerment, and appreciation are often the result as a friend shared after a group conversation.

"What did happen was that, through all of your sharing, dedication and support I have come to a place of peace in my life. Perception, I now know was the key that unlocked the door of confusion, fear and resentment in my life. Thank you all for validating my perception by listening and not judging. I now have a new sense of empowerment that you all contributed to, by providing for me a safe and caring environment in which to explore and look within. I am excited about the work that everyone is doing on a personal level because it will overflow into our communities." -- Anonymous

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Youth, in particular, often do not feel heard. Even when heard, they frequently do not have the resources, support or confidence to put their ideas into action. The National 4-H Council, has asked communities to converse about the question: "Within the next 3-5 years, what are the most important actions we can take to create the future we want for youth in our community?" Then work to implement some of the ideas.

As a 4-H parent, advocate for meeting the needs of all a community's residents, and a committed community service volunteer, this project is one I can stand behind. If you're interested, get involved, your participation will build a stronger community.

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Revelyn Rawdin is a 4-H leader and Mt. Hood Towne Hall board member.

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