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High Conflict

What I see more than anything is that, when politicians are more interested in getting people involved in conflict, they become better at creating problems than solving them. On the national level, that's extremely common, and it's becoming more common on the local level. But I think that is /only/ because we are letting the conflict drive us into cynicism. I feel like, as long as the conflict machine (which is very clearly mostly driven by a reactionary right-wing set of fears) is in charge, it's going to get harder and harder and harder to solve even a single problem.

So I'm not saying, "Let's stop with all the conflict!" because there is much to fight for and disagreement is the energy of democracy. But if everyone is hopeless or only fighting to beat the opposition, not to actually win progress, nothing gets solved. And I think part of pushing back agains that is being grateful for leaders who are finding ways to succeed without dumping gasoline on the fire.

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Good morning John.

Hear me out. What if people are almost all pretty good and they're just trying to make things better for themselves and the people they love in a world that has a whole lot of directional inertia?

What if we're all trying to do that in countries that have tens or hundreds of millions of people who all see the world a little differently from each other? What if there are a bunch of leaders who have to try and figure out how to move forward while listening to the wants and needs and hopes and dreams and frustrations and fears of thousands or millions of people? And what if - this might be a stretch- those people are mostly big bags of well meaning worry, trying to do the right thing when it's never clear what the right thing to do is?

Something weird has happened to me in the last couple of weeks and it's the result of I think three different things. First, is that I finished this book, it's called High Conflict. It talks about how good and important conflict is, until it's not anymore.

Until the moment when people start being much more concerned about winning the conflict than solving the problems that spurred the conflict in the first place. How to recognize when that's happening, and how to walk back from it if it isn't achieving the goals. The second thing that happened is of course, last week I spent a huge amount of time trying to understand on a deep level a large piece of legislation, and how complicated it is, and how important it is, and how good it is, even though it has parts of it in it that I would rather definitely not be there.

In doing that I got a better idea of all of the coalitions that had to come together to form some kind of solidarity, if not consensus about this, then at least buy in. You had to take a lot of different kinds of people with some broad alignments about big stuff, but a ton of individual disagreements, and get them of board for something very complex and big and meaningful. And the third thing was that a friend of mine died.

His name was John Engen, he was the mayor of my town for the last fifteen years. Long time. And what I know about him, and of all of the people I've ever seen work in my city Goverment either elected or not elected, is that they have very hard jobs in which they have to listen to a lot of people, and then end up doing stuff that makes no one happy. Because their job isn't to make one group of people happy, it's to represent everyone, and nothing really hits their desk unless people disagree about it.

I disagree really really deeply with a lot of people in my community, and I'm sure that privately, mayor Engen hated when he was hated. And there were a lot of people who did not like him, as we do with politicians. And I'm sure that he was often very frustrated that despite lots of training and his best efforts people still would not hear him sometimes.

But he understood that the first line on the job description of being a leader was not "Be heard"  it was "Listen." For him, the first step in being heard was to listen. To make sure that people were heard so that they would be more likely to hear him. I think leaders all over the world do this and we have no mechanism to celebrate that, or to thank them for it.

It is  very, very hard, very important work. It's been hard to not be cynical about Governemt for a while now, maybe forever. But thinking some about the mechanisms for how conflict functions, deeply examining some legislation that took a lot of work to build alignment on and of course, having pause to examine the life of a really dedicated and talented public servant has put my brain in a different space.

At least for the moment. Which has made me feel really good about a thing that we've been doing for a really long time, called how to vote in every state. It's a Youtube channel, and also now a Tiktok account where you can go and watch the video for your state.

It'll tell you how to get registered, whether you can vote from home, how to get a sample ballot, how to find your polling place, all the stuff you need to make your plan so that you can go and vote. because voting, as I said on twitter, is the butt wiping democracy. It doensn't solve all the problems and it's not the limit of what you should do, but its pretty low-lift, and it definitely does not help to not do it. So if you or someone you know doens't have a voting plan for this election, check it out or send it to them.

Thank you. John, feel better, I'll see you on Tuesday.