Speaking together differently in order to live together differently.

The word “civility” may be complicated — but we can start having the conversations we want to be hearing. The Civil Conversations Project is an evolving adventure in audio, events, resources, and initiatives for planting relationship and conversation around the subjects we fight about intensely — and those we’ve barely begun to discuss.

On Being episodes in The Civil Conversations Project.

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Community organizers Rami Nashashibi and Lucas Johnson have much to teach us about using love — the most reliable muscle of human transformation — as a practical public good. Nashashibi is the founder of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, a force for social healing on Chicago’s South Side. Johnson is the newly-named executive director of The On Being Project’s Civil Conversations Project. In a world of division, they say despair is not an option — and that the work of social healing requires us to get “proximate to pain.”

The late Wangari Maathai was a biologist, environmentalist, and the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. She was born under British colonial occupation and schooled by Catholic missionaries. But when she looked back on her childhood near the end of her life, she realized her family’s Kikuyu culture had imparted her with an intuitive sense of environmental balance. Maathai was steadfast in her determination to fight for the twin issues of conservation and human rights — and planting trees was a symbol of defiance.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet, theologian, and extraordinary healer in our world of fracture. He leads the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland, a place that has offered refuge since the violent division that defined that country until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Ó Tuama and Corrymeela extend a quiet, generative, and joyful force far beyond their northern coast to people around the world. Over cups of tea and the experience of bringing people together, he says it becomes possible to talk with each other and be in the same room with the people we talk about.

Writer and photographer Teju Cole says he is “intrigued by the continuity of places, by the singing line that connects them all.” He attends to the border, overlap and interplay of things — from Brahms and Baldwin to daily technologies like Google. To delve into his mind and his multiple arts is to meet this world with creative raw materials for enduring truth and quiet hope.

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson is one of the central people who’s helped us begin to see inside our brains. His work has illuminated the rich interplay between things we saw as separate not that long ago: body, mind, spirit, emotion, behavior, and genetics. Richard is applying what he’s learning about imparting qualities of character — like kindness and practical love — in lives and in classrooms. This live conversation was recorded at the Orange County Department of Education in Costa Mesa, California.

The poet, essayist, and playwright Claudia Rankine says every conversation about race doesn’t need to be about racism. But she says all of us — and especially white people — need to find a way to talk about it, even when it gets uncomfortable. Her bestselling book, Citizen: An American Lyric, catalogued the painful daily experiences of lived racism for people of color. Claudia models how it’s possible to bring that reality into the open — not to fight, but to draw closer. And she shows how we can do this with everyone, from our intimate friends to strangers on airplanes.

What we are naming with the impetus of #MeToo is, at best, an opening to a long-term cultural reckoning to grow up humanity; to make our society more whole. We explore this with psychotherapist Avi Klein, who works with men and couples, and feminist journalist Rebecca Traister. In a room full of journalists, at the invitation of the Solutions Journalism Network, we explored how to build the spaces, the imaginative muscle, and the pragmatic forms to support healing for women and men, now and in time.

We Americans revere the creation of wealth. Anand Giridharadas wants us to examine this and how it shapes our life together. This is a challenging conversation but a generative one: about the implicit moral equations behind a notion like “win-win” — and the moral compromises in a cultural consensus we’ve reached, without reflecting on it, about what and who can save us.

Tracy K. Smith has a deep interest in “the kind of silence that yields clarity” and “the way our voices sound when we dip below the decibel level of politics.” She’s a welcome voice on the little leaps of the imagination that can restore us. She’s spent the past year traversing our country, listening for all of this and drawing it forth as the U.S. Poet Laureate. Krista spoke with her at the invitation of New York’s B’nai Jeshurun synagogue, which has been in communal exploration on creating a just and redeemed social fabric.

One of the voices many have been turning to in recent years is Arlie Hochschild. She helped create the field of the sociology of emotion — our stories as “felt” rather than merely factual. When she published her book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, in the fall of 2016, it felt like she had chronicled the human dynamics that have now come to upend American culture. It was based on five years of friendship and research in Tea Party country at that movement’s height, far from her home in Berkeley, California. Her understanding of emotion in society and politics feels even more important at this juncture. So does the reflective, self-critical sensibility this experience gave Arlie Hochschild on her own liberal instincts. Caring, she says, is not the same as capitulating.

“People believe things that are mutually contradictory; I think we all do. I know I do.” — Erick Erickson

Earlier this year, the University of Montana invited On Being to attempt an outside the box civil conversation between two political pundits on contrasting ends of the U.S. political spectrum. It became a sold-out, public event in the spirit of Montana’s Senator Mike Mansfield, who famously modeled integrity, courage, and humility across the partisan aisle in the tumult of 1960s and 70s. Sally Kohn and Erick Erickson are both controversial, lightning-rod figures, yet neither of them fits neatly into a partisan mold. The reaction of the youngest people in the room is what compelled us to put this on the air. They said they had not witnessed or imagined a political conversation like this possible: one marked at once by bedrock difference — and good will, humor, and a willingness to bring our questions as well as our arguments, our humanity as well as our positions, into the room, if only for an evening.

“Conversation is not just about words passing between mouths and ears. It’s about shared life. Listening is about bringing our lives into conversation.”

In the midst of public conversation around Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Krista reflects on what it really looks like to engage with one another across a moral issue with curiosity alongside our convictions.

Living the Questions is an occasional On Being segment where Krista muses on questions from our listening community.

Featured Starting Point

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Our Grounding Virtues

What we practice, we become. These six “grounding virtues” guide everything we do through The On Being Project. Virtues are not the stuff of saints and heroes. They are spiritual technologies and tools for the art of living. Read more.

The Better Conversations Guide

This guide is intended to help ground and animate a gathering of friends or strangers in a conversation that might take place over weeks or months. It provides a flexible roadmap you can adapt for your group and intentions. We created it as producers, but more as citizens, out of what we’ve learned in more than 15 years of conversation on On Being.

Get the Guide

“When it comes to cultural change we excessively fixate on the critical mass and underestimate the catalytic quality of the improbable few. The ‘critical yeast’ — these small, unlikely, combinations of persistent people and partnerships committed to a new quality of relationship — dwell before and behind every instance of social change that truly shifts what is possible and transformative across generations.”

John Paul Lederach

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What’s on your mind?

We experience ourselves as part of a vast landscape of people and communities working to create relationship across rupture. If you want to get involved with the Civil Conversations Project, or if you’re making things happen where you live, we’d love to hear from you.