World Café for the US Senate

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

|Photo by Kevin Dooley||

If you have been paying any attention to the national political scene, you know that in these days of no compromise everything seems to balance on the mathematics of the US Senate.  Given the latest equation, it was no small deal to learn that Senator Evan Bayh will not be running for re-election.  About a month ago he wrote a New York Times opinion piece that has been on my mind since then – Why I’m Leaving the Senate.

The piece is worth reading in full, but here is the part that inspired this post:

Any improvement must begin by changing the personal chemistry among senators. More interaction in a non-adversarial atmosphere would help…  It shouldn’t take a constitutional crisis or an attack on the nation to create honest dialogue in the Senate. Let’s start with a simple proposal: why not have a monthly lunch of all 100 senators?

I don’t think Senator Bayh is being at all simplistic with this very concrete and achievable proposal I, in fact, believe that he is offering one of the few alternatives that would work!  I have one significant upgrade to his proposal, I think the US Senate needs to hold a monthly World Café!

If we’ve worked together in the past you probably know I am a big fan of this powerful group process (full disclosure – I’m about to marry Samantha Tan, a Global Steward of the World Café community who I met as I inquired further into the process!).  The World Café allows large groups to have intimate conversations that build upon each other in powerful and often unexpected ways – “[a]s a process, the World Café can evoke and make visible the collective intelligence of any group, thus increasing people’s capacity for effective action in pursuit of common aims.”

While I think that the questions for the Senate World Café’s should be carefully designed to bring forth the highest and deepest aspirations of each of the Senators, I don’t think these should be made public, let us not give them a chance to grand stand.  Let us instead trust that with a powerful process, and frequent honest conversation, we might be able to escape the deadlock that has paralyzed our national politics right at the time we need bold action.

I’m taking the liberty to make this post a bit longer than usual by inviting my friends from the World Café community to share a few of the questions they would invite Senators to answer if they were hosting the monthly Senate Café:

  • What do you admire most about the people who sit across the isle from you?
  • When we retire from the Senate, what will be the most significant
    legacy we want to leave for our nation, our state, our children?
    What are you (we) doing to live that legacy now?
  • What new social agreements do we need to develop and live by so we
    regain trust and respect in the country and abroad?

What do you want your Senators to talk about?  What questions would you ask?

Here are a few more from our friends at The World Café:
Maria de los Angeles Cinta from Integral Collaborations

  • What is the “business” we are in?
  • How close are we to the mission granted to us by our constituencies and the society at large?
  • What new social agreements do we need to develop and live by so we regain trust and respect in the country and abroad?

Ken Homer from Collaborative Conversations

  • How have we lost the trust of the American people? What will we do to restore it?

John Inman

  • Question for first round: Who are we being that the eyes of every person in this site are shinning? (We use Zander in the company so the metaphor is relevant)
  • Question for the second round: What are we doing that the eyes of ever person in the site are shining?
  • Question for third round: What is our new story?

David Isaacs co-creator of The World Cafe

  • When we retire from the Senate, what will be the most significant legacy we want to leave for our nation, our state, our children? What are you (we) doing to live that legacy now?
  • What leadership responsibilities and what challenges do Senators have that transcend partisanship in a way that regular public, and private transpartisan conversations might engage? another way of asking this is…
  • What is more important than winning our next election campaign… On what issue(s) are we (Senators) willing to risk NOT being re-elected?…  what is larger than Senators capacity to be re-elected?… or what do you love more than getting re-elected?
  • What advice and counsel will you provide to your successor in the Senate?
  • What good reason would Senators from both sides of the aisle choose to be in open dialogue with each other?
  • What do you as a partisan Senator most respect about members from across the aisle?

Jeff Leinaweaver from Global Zen

  • I think I would ask a question which is also a quote from Mary Oliver~  “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”   After all, at the end of the day, they too are human.
  • I mean, at the end of the day, does their humanity nurture contraction and greed, or does it nurture symbiosis and the mysterious intent of life to beget more life?

Nancy Margulies of Mindscapes

  • What values do we hold in common and what actions can we take to act upon one of our common values?
  • If someone were to view us from another planet what would they think we value most?
  • What do you most want your grandchildren to remember you for?
  • What do you admire most about the people who sit across the aisle from you?

Samantha Tan from the Meristem Group

  • Share a story of a time when your work most authentically aligned with the nation’s founding principles?

No Comments

  • wonderful summary Gibran….is there a way to post this also in the World Cafe on-line community so people can respond there as well? Or on the World Cafe blog?
    Con carino,

  • Curtis says:

    Great post, Gibran! Great questions. Let’s invite Congress to 625 Mt. Auburn Street! Lunch is on us.

  • Curtis says:

    Without being able to put my finger on an exact question right now (jet lagged in Indianapolis), I would advocate for a question or questions that activate empathy. I might first introduce stories from a diverse set of struggling Americans and have people try to feel the full impact of what they have been or are going through. How do they imagine how those people experience their realities? How do they/are they able to connect to those stories?

  • martyz says:

    Gibran, great idea!! I’m reminded of a passage from Jack Kornfield’s book A Path With Heart.
    “Even in the mosted exalted states and most exceptional spiritual accomplishments are unimportant if we can not be happy in the most basic and ordinary ways, if, with our hearts, we cannot touch one another and the life we have been given. What matters is how we live. This is why it is so difficult and so important to ask the question of ourselves: “Am I living my path fully, do I live without regret?” so that we can say on whatever day is the end of our life, “Yes, I have lived my path with heart.”

  • Awesome post, Gibran. LOVE THE IDEA. I volunteer to ring the bells to sound the rounds! Having just come off of the weekend of utilizing World Cafe an a convening for 250 Haitian Americans from throughout New England, Im recently reminded how useful, unique and effective a process it is to uncover (and in the Senate’s case — recover!) communal will, wisdom and relationships. I dont think this is simply a wild wish of yours, G. I believe we can it happen in the Sentate…networks: ACTIVATE!

  • Gibran says:

    Glad to hear it worked with the Haiti crew Melinda! I’m telling, I can’t think of too many other campaigns worth waging as one to get these chambers to reconnect as human beings, courage would emerge from there!

    Marty – glad to hear your voice here, and I totally share your perspective, it is so dangerous to “abstract” our mission or ideology from our selves, our hearts and our human connections, reclaiming these is a way to mover forward.

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