by Gayle Yamauchi-Gleason
Michael C. Taggart is retired from a public service career in the Columbus, OH area and is one of many dedicated Living Room Conversations volunteers. A self-identified ‘constitutional conservative’, Michael described in an interview how he discovered Living Room Conversations last year, and what he has been up to since!
What is your story about how you learned about and became involved with Living Room Conversations?
I have had a growing concern about the lack of genuine listening in conversations and the damage to our culture when people don’t suspend judgment and deeply listen to one another. Afterall, if we don’t talk to those with a different perspective how are we going to solve the pressing problems of the day? As a recent retiree from a variety of administrative positions in state government and higher education I was looking for opportunities to be part of a bipartisan group that shared my concern. On my first visit to livingroomconversations.org I learned that training for anyone wanting to host conversations was available, and within the first 30 days I hosted an in-home and online conversation. I am proud to volunteer with an organization that continues to prove that with the right tools average citizens can become bridge builders and peacemakers.
You seem to care very deeply about listening to understand, and to connect. Do you have a personal story of how your listening to another may have changed their life in some way?
One day while running errands I stopped to say hello to a friend who seemed quite distressed. Earlier that morning he had been in a heated argument with his partner in their home and walked out in anger after saying “I’m not coming back!” He expressed his anger and frustration about his situation as I listened, asked a few clarifying questions and reflected back what I had heard. He thanked me for listening and went on his way. I was not sure how helpful I had been until I saw him the next day. He wanted me to know that he and his partner had resolved their differences and how grateful he was for our chance encounter the day before and the opportunity to be fully heard. It was a powerful reminder to me of the power of empathetic listening.
How do you feel when you are listening to someone tell you their story?
On one level I feel honored that they are willing to share their story and trust that I will listen respectfully. I listen differently now than I used to. I am now more mindful about being fully in the moment of conversation. Sometimes I feel reactive to a particular point of view and I have to remind myself to suspend judgment. I try to discover a new insight or “take away” from every conversation that can help me be more effective in my daily living. I do my best to listen beyond their words to what their heart is saying. I feel hopeful when I am mindful of how much common ground all people have despite the differences we have in our background and life experience. At the deepest level we share universal human needs to be respected, to be safe, and to be heard.
How does being involved with Living Room Conversations align with your interest in connecting with others through listening deeply to their stories?
I like the Living Room Conversations model because it is a tool that anyone can easily use to facilitate neighborly discussion. In this way anyone can become a contributor to peace, greater understanding and connection between persons holding different views. It connects me to an online community that shares my interest in using conversations as an effective way to bridge the divide among people. Sharing my enthusiasm about Living Room Conversations is a way I can let people who have been distressed about the division in the country know that the growing interest in Living Room Conversation is a reason for optimism about the future. It gives me greater hope to know that more and more people realize that in order to solve the major problems of our time we need to be more curious and less furious when we encounter persons with different views than ours.
It sounds like you really hit the ground running by hosting an in person and online Living Room Conversation within the first month of your involvement. Can you tell us what else you have been up to in terms of helping to make other conversations happen?
I am participating in an advisory group convened by Reverend Linda Taylor, Living Room Conversations Faith Partner to promote implementation of the Living Room Conversations model within faith communities. I also regularly host online conversations that are listed at livingroomconversations.org. I will be hosting three in March. I recently hosted an LRC discussion on the topic “Politics in Faith Communities” at Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. I will join Reverend Linda Taylor to host 3 conversations there in March in support of their consideration of expanding the use of this conversational model. I have been conducting outreach within my own community to introduce Living Room Conversations as a small group tool for promoting greater understanding between persons with different points of view on significant issues. I am currently organizing a Living Room Conversation at my church, Unity Church of Delaware, OH.