"We're all waking up to the potential for harm that technology can unleash on us."
Kristin Hansen is co-founder of AllSides Talks (formerly known as AllSides Connect), a technology platform that brings students from various backgrounds together to engage in constructive dialogue on difficult topics. AllSides Talks uses Mismatch, a tech platform that connects classrooms across the country with different political, socio-economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Hansen has been recognized by "Everyday Heroes," a collection of profiles of civic pioneers who are creating novel solutions to polarization in the United States. It's a companion series to "The Reunited States," an acclaimed feature documentary that follows everyday Americans seeking to bridge our political and racial divides.
EVERYDAY HEROES - Kristin Hansen, AllSides Connect youtu.be
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As I watched the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday night, I realized that this celebration of lifetime artistic achievement is much more than just another show business awards ceremony.
The Kennedy Center represents the cultural diversity of our country, and the language of the music and the dance presented over the course of the program illustrates how it often has been a catalyst for change.
There is a unique exchange between performers and their audience and the truly great artist raises the collective consciousness of those in attendance as they step into the future with the performer.
Joan Baez was one of the winners, and as a child of the '60s I remember her music well.
Baez was and still is a voice for the disenfranchised and the marginalized. The words of "We Shall Overcome" are as relevant today as they were then, and despite the passing of 50 years I do believe "deep in my heart — we shall overcome someday."
Those who spoke last night about the life and work of Baez reflected how counterculture her work was at the beginning and how all of a sudden in the 1960s they were the culture; a culture that lived the pluralistic dreams of our founders and the motto of our nation: E pluribus unum. Out of many, we are one.
Debbie Allen was another award winner. Her music and dance were deeply rooted in the Harlem Renaissance of her time, and her work also represents the unlimited potential that comes with creativity. Growing up in the segregated South, she was raised to be independent and free and saw herself as a citizen of the world.
Her words in many ways reflect not only her challenges in life but the challenges of our nation:
"You have to continue to believe in yourself, know your value and continue to work on honing your skills. I was rejected by everyone, but here I sit. So you have to stay in the game, you can't just fall apart. Hopefully those challenges will make you stronger. It did for me."
And then there was Midori, described by a presenter as a visionary artist, activist and educator who explores and builds connections between music and the human experience, a person who breaks with traditional boundaries to become one of the most outstanding violinists of our time.
One of the presenters last night spoke of how who Midori "stirs our souls with her music, but has changed our lives with her deeds."
There exists a unique understanding of possibilities of music not only for those who perform, but for those who listen. She recently said, "Artists have a singular responsibility through our work and deeds, to echo and mirror our society and serve its needs."
Midori understands so well the impossibility of perfection in both her music and the society that we live in, but also the common path of both:
"It should be recognized that pure perfection is unattainable. Therefore, the realization that one's irrevocable faults and deficiencies must be faced guides us toward the first step of learning. We must each accept any situation as it actually is, with dignity."
And she has fulfilled that responsibility as an artist. Midori is deeply committed to furthering humanitarian and educational goals. She has founded and manages several nonprofit organizations, including Midori & Friends, which provides music programs for New York City youth and communities, and Music Sharing, a Japan-based foundation that brings both western classical and Japanese music traditions into young lives by presenting programs in schools, institutions and hospitals. In recognition of such commitments, she serves as a United Nations messenger of peace.
The intersection of democracy and culture was reinforced last night. The musician seeks to inspire his or her audience, and the politician his or her constituency.
"Jazz music is the perfect metaphor for democracy," says famed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. "The music of The Democracy! Suite may be instrumental, but it speaks for itself, urging us onto action—to get out of our seats and fight for the world we believe in."
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Every democracy depends on a certain level of trust among its citizens and in its key institutions of government, business and civil society. We clearly have work to do, according to new research.
More in Common, a nonprofit that works to end polarization, released "Two Stories of Distrust in America" on Monday. The report catalogues across-the-board distrust and identifies ways to restore faith in institutions and each other. With more than 10,000 people participating via surveys, long-term study and dialogue, it's a comprehensive view of why trust is missing with institutions and among people.
The report breaks the issue down into two parts: "an ideological 'us versus them' distrust and a 'social distrust' that tracks interactions and feelings of belonging, dignity, and equality."
The top-level ideological data shows a remarkable lack of faith in core institutions. Only 11 percent of Americans believe the federal government or corporations are honest (conservatives are slightly more positive about corporations). The national media scores better — 22 percent overall — with liberals and progressives sharing a much more positive opinion than moderates and conservatives.
There have been dramatic swings in Americans' confidence that the government will do what is right for the country. In March 2021, 50 percent said they are confident, up 11 points from June 2020. But that data point belies a huge partisan divide. Confidence among Republicans dropped 29 points while raising 50 points among Democrats. (There was virtually no movement among independents).
The More in Common survey also found that a lack of trust in other people has continued to steadily decline. Four in 10 Americans said "Most people can be trusted" but 61 percent said "You can't be too careful in dealing with people." The National Opinion Research Council has been asking whether most people can be trusted for decades, and positive responses haven't cracked 40 percent since the mid 1980s.
"Without a baseline of trust in key institutions and in each other, we cannot solve collective problems or advance changes that benefit all sectors of society," reads the report." In high-trust societies, people are able to organize more quickly, initiate action, and sacrifice for the common good. High trust societies have lower economic inequality and growing economies, lower rates of corruption, and a more civically engaged population."
There are also significant feelings of a lack of belonging across ideology, age and race. Overall, 34 percent of Americans say they do not feel a sense of belonging in any community.
Additional takeaways from the 50-page report include:
- Disgust is more prevalent than anger, which is the path to dehumanization of each other.
- Exposure to people different from ourselves, in settings where we share an overlapping identity is critical. For example, parents share an identity that is not based on ideology. Positive interactions on non-risky identities leads to more tolerance overall.
- Participation in civic life increases our sense of belonging, which increases trust. Participation (or lack of) is both a cause and a cure for distrust.
- The easiest place to start is local, in our neighborhoods and communities where we can see the impact of our involvement.
- Communication from elected officials and leaders needs to be thorough, with clear acknowledgement of the impact when people participate. Let people know they've made a difference.
Building trust will be among the most important societal design challenges for the 21st century.
"Efforts from government leaders to promote bipartisanship and to restore Americans' confidence in the institutions of democracy should be complemented by strategies and programs for building social trust within and across communities, groups, and people," reads the report. "A comprehensive strategy to build trust would catalyze a virtuous cycle wherein efforts to reduce ideological and social distrust reinforce and accelerate one another."
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Millions of students will graduate this spring into a workforce radically altered by the pandemic, as well as changes in technology and energy. What is our government's role in this new economy?
The Common Ground Committee welcomed two leading voices in the political world, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, for a thought-provoking conversation.
Finding Common Ground on the New Economy: Highlights www.youtube.com
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