Free speech is valued in a democracy, and it can be learned at your own dinner table. Celeste Headlee, radio host and author of We Need to Talk, recommends truly considering each other in our conversations. She cites research recommendations from the Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley that could be put to good use during dinner time. First, listen actively to who's speaking. It helps to be fully present and pay attention to the speaker's face. Listen without interrupting, especially to dissenting opinions, and make sure each person has a chance to say everything s/he has to say. Acknowledge her or his emotional experience, especially when you can share joy. Look for commonalities. And when you don't understand why the speaker is acting and feeling a certain way, ask for more information by saying something like, "Tell me more about what happened," or "Tell me more about why you think/feel that." Listen and respond with compassion, especially when you disagree.
When you find yourself on different sides of an issue from another person at the table, Kay Lindahl, author of The Sacred Art of Listening, suggests listening without defending your position, and responding with something like, "I'll consider what you said," or "That's an interesting way to think about it," or "I can see how much this means to you." Practicing democratic conversations at the dinner table is good preparation for difficult conversations outside of your home.— Habib Todd Boerger, Celeste Headlee, Kay Lindahl in Practicing Democracy at Home by Habib Todd Boerger