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Using “Living Room Conversations” To Find Common Ground on Issues

Using “Living Room Conversations” To Find Common Ground on Issues

Wendy Craig Purcell

Living Room Conversations in Action

Do you ever find yourself unable to talk to someone, about politics perhaps, and the conversation just breaks down? It happens these days. There you are with someone you may really like or have to interact with and it gets contentious and heated. What’s next? How do you honor your relationship and not make it personal? How do you find some places to agree? To avoid the place where no one hears each other?

Two people decided to see what they could do to change that. Joan Blades from Berkeley and    cofounder of, and John Gable, a former Republican operative originally from a small town in the South, were at the opposite ends of the political spectrum when they met. Now they are founding co-partners of Living Room Conversations.

Since then they have hosted “Conversations” that have brought together  a Tea Party member with Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor. They’ve brought a lot of people, formerly in opposition, together to talk and discover where they can agree.

Now, a group in San Diego has decided to bring that process to the San Diego area community. Here is what they are doing. It’s for everyone.

—Steve Hays

Living Room Conversations In Action

By Christine Elliot

It’s clear that today’s world is increasingly dominated by two overarching themes: first, divisiveness and polarization, and second, critical issues that demand urgent solutions. And now, local New Thought spiritual centers are taking a crucial step to address both.

New Thought is a spiritual (not religious) movement whose core beliefs are that all people are spiritual beings, and that the purpose of your life is to use your mind to expand your consciousness of that spiritual nature, and live your daily life in the fullest expression of your spirituality. Seeing a clear connection between collective social change and individual spiritual growth, New Thought teaches that doing the inner work to achieve a higher level of groundedness and consciousness, is the basis of doing the outer work that will create a world that works for everyone. In other words, life is about engaged spirituality.

This Fall, under the banner “Bolder Together”, eleven Southern California New Thought organizations are offering people the opportunity to participate in engaged spirituality. The vehicle is called “Living Room Conversations”, a loosely structured group discussion format for friendly and meaningful conversations about deeply concerning social issues such as race and ethnicity, immigration and gun responsibility. The purpose is to increase understanding, reveal common ground and, potentially, suggest steps toward solutions. With the goal of being a bridge across the big issues that divide us, Living Room Conversations is also an online organization offering resources and a community encouraging people to “respect, relate and connect.” Reverend Wendy Craig-Purcell, founding minister of The Unity Center San Diego, researched the organization and introduced the concept to the Bolder Together group.

While merely having a conversation may not seem like a dramatic action, deep and empathetic listening and sharing can be powerful. How different our world would be, if we all learned to authentically exchange views with respect, care and the genuine desire to understand. Understanding will change the way we think, which changes the way we talk, which changes the way we act. The Bolder Together spiritual communities firmly believe that this is the foundation of the future we all want.

Reverend Craig-Purcell says, “The Living Room Conversations format provides a safe and caring space for our most difficult conversations. It’s our opportunity to explore the beliefs underpinning how we got to where we are today, and to replace those with the spiritual truths that will move us forward. It’s no longer about being an angry activist; it’s about being a thoughtful, enlightened champion of a more loving society.”

The Bolder Together group collectively believes that, contemplating the enormity of today’s problems, many people feel overwhelmed and helpless. Although passionate to see change for the better, they see no way they can personally make a difference. Craig-Purcell explains, “When you understand that social change begins with yourself, you also realize that it is essential that we bring spiritual principles to bear on these big issues. And that is only possible by exchanging our differing points of view in a spiritually grounded, open-minded atmosphere. Our New Thought centers are in a unique position to provide that very atmosphere. For example, at The Unity Center we describe ourselves as ‘spiritually progressive, socially responsive and radically inclusive’. And the feedback we receive from first time visitors to The Center reflects that they experience our community as  exactly that. It takes some effort and growth to accept that we can love another and disagree. Our Bolder Together aspiration for our Living Room Conversations is to provide the container for that effort and that growth.”

This past September 9th, the eleven spiritual communities held their first Living Room Conversations on the same day, at the same time, in their respective locations, on the topic of “Race and Ethnicity”. One attendee at The Unity Center shared afterward, “I’ve always felt disgusted when I witness racial slurs, but I never knew what I could do about it. In the Living Room Conversation, I realized I want to create a pre-rehearsed phrase or two that I can readily use to address a situation when I see it happening. It’s just a minor thing, but it feels good to have something concrete I can do in my own way.”

The Bolder Together communities will be holding two additional Living Room Conversation events this Fall: on Oct. 14 the topic will be Immigration, and on Nov. 11 the topic will be Gun Responsibility. There is no fee, but registering at least one week in advance facilitates their logistics and is much appreciated!

To participate at The Unity Center San Diego in Mira Mesa, you can go to their website at, or call them at 858-689-6500. The staff there can also direct you to the other nearby Bolder Together locations where Living Room Conversations will be taking place on the same topics on the same dates.

Click here for the list of the other Bolder Together spiritual centers participating.

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