Open Discussion Project

Opening meeting Mon., Feb. 11, 5:30-7:00 PM

Reasonable people of all political persuasions view the increased polarization of our politics with dismay.  Too often, we’re only talking to people who agree with us. Anyone who doesn’t agree is an idiot, a troll, or a monster. This "siloing" of ideas and experiences undercuts our nation’s ability to address urgent problems and take necessary actions.

This isn’t just a left vs.right issue. It has corrupted the internal politics of both the left and the right, with ideological purity being the impossible standard for legitimate opinion.

To encourage more real dialogue, Gibson’s Bookstore is joining with a handful of other bookstores in a new initiative. Called the Open Discussion Project, the idea is to set up reading groups of liberals and conservatives that will meet monthly and share views about books on race, climate change, guns, immigration, money in politics, and other controversial issues. The groups—one in each participating store—will be moderated by professional facilitators to ensure all opinions are heard and conversations remain respectful.

The goal of this effort is not conversion but conversation, empathy, and understanding. We’re not aiming to determine winners or losers or to persuade others to particular points of view, but to create opportunities for people to speak freely with each other about matters that deeply divide them. Similar community initiatives are underway around the country. Our plan is to draw on lessons learned from these efforts, establishing a space in our own stores where people can step outside their echo chambers and engage with, and more fully comprehend, those with differing points of view.

Overseeing this project are three national organizations devoted to encouraging democratic dialogue and civic participation. They include: the American Booksellers Association, which represents more than 2,000 independent bookstores; the National Coalition Against Censorship, a non-partisan alliance of 56 national non-profits; and the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a non-partisan group based at the University of Arizona that works with elected officials, journalists, and the public to address incivility and political dysfunction.

The other participating bookstores, located in different parts of the country, are: Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville, IL), Politics & Prose (Washington, DC), Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh, NC), Schuler Books & Music (Grand Rapids, MI), and Vroman’s Bookstore (Pasadena, CA).

Fueling our hope for this initiative is the belief that Americans—as polarized as they now are—still share many values and life experiences that make reasoned discussion of their differences possible.

Our first meeting will be open to all, to gauge community interest and to be as inclusive as possible. We hope that community members of all political persuasions will be tempted to join us. Our meetings will be on the second Monday of each month, at 5:30 PM, in the bookstore, with the first being on Monday, February 11.  Our facilitator will be Grace Mattern, who is well-known in New Hampshire in both the non-profit and poetry worlds, and is a skilled and experienced faciltator.

To start the conversation, we’ll ask participants to read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt before the first meeting.  Copies will be available in the bookstore on Thursday, at our standard 25% discount for book club books. Here’s how
the publisher describes this title:

In this "landmark contribution to humanity's understanding of itself" (New York Times Book Review) social psychologist Jonathan Haidt challenges conventional thinking about morality, politics, and religion in a way that speaks to conservatives and liberals alike.

Drawing on his twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, Haidt shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns. In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts. If you're ready to trade in anger for understanding, read The Righteous Mind.

And keep in mind--we don't have to agree about Haidt--or about anything!  We just have to find ways to truly hear each other. That's what this group will be about. Please join us!

Event date: 
Monday, February 11, 2019 - 5:30pm
Event address: 
45 South Main Street
Concord, NH 03301
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307455772
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - February 12th, 2013

New York Times Bestseller
In this “landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself” (The New York Times Book Review) social psychologist Jonathan Haidt challenges conventional thinking about morality, politics, and religion in a way that speaks to conservatives and liberals alike.