The lost art of democratic debate

If you haven't watched Michael Sandel's series on Justice, I suggest you check out "The Lost Art of Democratic Debate." Professor Sandel, Harvard University, uses examples with flutes, golf, and same sex marriage to present his compelling thesis:

A better way to mutual respect is to engage directly with the moral convictions citizens bring to public life rather than to require that people leave their deepest moral convictions outside politics before they enter.  That is the way to begin to restore the art of democratic argument."

In community forums (just as at family cookouts!) it is common to steer clear of the heart of a contentious matter - whether  discussing protection of open space, creation of publicly-subsidized affordable housing, or whether or not to serve a vegetarian option.  This is where community planners can help.

Planners, as facilitators of public discussion and debate, are in a critical position to help citizens communicate the essence of their convictions - to steer the discussion directly into the heart of the matter.  In fact, I would argue that we aren't doing our job if we avoid this.

To use Professor Sandel's words - ask what is the essential purpose of the social institution and what qualities are worthy of honor and recognition.  He gives us much to reflect on in order to become more effective instruments for facilitating meaningful community dialogue that results in just public decisions.