Most adults would agree that civil dialogue, in which opposing viewpoints are expressed, listened to and actually heard, is less common in our society every day. It even seems that with the mass communications that we have available to us, every minute of every day – in our cars, in our homes, in our pockets – we’re less connected to meaningful dialogue than ever before.
As our local communities try to deal with issues such as land use and our local economy, limited county budgets and watershed implementation plans, there’s a pressing need for inclusive dialogue and finding common ground.
The Maryland Humanities Council aims to address this issue in five counties on the Eastern Shore – Kent, Queen Anne, Talbot, Dorchester, Wicomico and Worcester. Their program “Let’s Be Shore”, kicked off in 2011, culminates this summer, with a series of public workshops and events. The Humanities Council proposes that engagement with the humanities—history, ethics, literature, philosophy—can foster productive debate and help us talk, listen, disagree, and find commonalities.
“Let’s Be Shore” will bring people with differing opinions together for a series of public forum discussions, workshops and interactive events. Covering topics such as land use, water and agriculture, the project promotes informed dialogue and civic engagement on issues critical to Marylanders. The goal is to bring people of differing opinions and points of view together for respectful and effective civic dialogue that will promote healthy, working relationships across local communities.
Beth Barbush and Jean Wortman, of the Maryland Humanities Council started the project last fall. They spent three months talking to various stakeholders on the Shore, collecting interviews with organic and conventional farmers, environmentalists, scientists and others representing broadly differing perspectives on Shore land use issues. 28 audio interviews were created, and of them eight were chosen that represent the broadest views in our communities. Award-winning film maker Doug Sadler created video portraits of the eight residents living and working on the Eastern Shore. The videos capture some of the polarized conversations around clean water advocacy efforts around the state.
Phase Two of the project begins in June, and shares the information collected through a website in which citizens can contribute to the conversation, and “sharing stations” at local places such as farmer’s markets, fairs and public events around the Shore. The goal is to engage citizens in the stories, the perspectives, to ask questions and collect citizen comments. Social media will also play a role in engaging citizen participation. The project is not advocating any one point of view, but rather, is advocating civil discourse, and offering public forums for these dialogues.
Phase Three begins in late summer, with a series of public events in which a humanities piece such as a film or speaker initiates the conversation, and moderators will walk the audience through a discussion. The expectation is passionate, respectful dialogue that will help to build long term relationships in our communities, and even cultivate solutions.
Currently scheduled “Sharing Station” tour stops:
June 7, Thursday – Cambridge Farmer’s Market
June 8 Friday – Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s Rural Job Summit, Easton
June 9 Saturday – Chestertown Farmer’s Market
June 14, Thursday – Kent Island Farmer’s Market
June 23, Saturday – Nanticoke River Jamboree, Vienna
June 26, Tuesday – Camden Avenue Farmer’s Market, Salisbury
June 30, Saturday – Centreville Day
July 7, Saturday – Easton Famer’s Market
July 28, Saturday – Chesapeake Folk Life Festival (Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum), St. Michaels
The Spy will follow this project, offering stories each leg of the way. Stay tuned for the June 1st launch of the project website, and updates about sharing stations and public events.