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If They Build It, Will You Come?

My brain explodes as it tries to process the debates that are defining the decade: race relations, campus violence, health care, the economy, international instability, media bias, and, of course, education. 

Nothing challenges the intellect better than a well-informed adversary arguing an issue in a measured, respectful tone.

Nothing angers the heart better than an ill-informed ally behaving like an imbecile.

And those who suggest that one side of any debate has a monopoly on reason or decorum reveal themselves as jackasses.

All of this has entered my subconscious and expressed itself in a recent dream in which I was trying to decide what format I'd use for my entry for a "Big Idea Contest." The choices were either a written description of an idea for a new kind of museum or a 3-D model of the idea.

The museum, whose name I never figured out, would focus on the state of public debate. The twist would be that the means of debate would have primacy over the content. The primary goal of the museum (and this post as well) would be for us to examine the role each of us plays in how we talk to each other. Informing visitors about the issues would be a distant second.

Each gallery would be dedicated to a single issue. The room itself would be long and oval-shaped with a partition running down the middle.

Each side of the partition would be dedicated to the how one side of the issue is presented. A committee made up of advocates and adversaries would decide which artifacts, essays, videos, and so forth showed each side of at its best - and, equally important, at its worst.* 

The curved walls would be made of some highly reflective material - the idea being that we would see ourselves as part of the presentation inasmuch as we are part of the means of the debate.

The partition between the two sides would be frosted to various degrees of transparency - with the view to the other side completely opaque in some places, foggy in other places, and clear in others. This would serve as a double metaphor of our willingness to try to understand our opponents as well as the clarity in which we view them. (This idea came to me after I woke up.)

Visitors could enter and exit each gallery from either side and would face a choice at the end– Do I go on to another issue or take a look at the other side of the same issue?

The galleries would be connected by lobbies designed to encourage interaction between the visitors. 

Outside, the museum would have paths leading visitors to secluded, meditation areas and to overlooks that provided a long view to the distance. The attempt, of course, would be to encourage us to look within and to look beyond ourselves. (This idea also came after I woke.)

The last detail in the dream itself was that I would propose that the museum be built on a hill near Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Think of the implications of that. 

*Note: The spirit would be that of a story I read once. Conservative author William F. Buckley, Jr. was travelling with historian and journalist Theodore White during the conflict between Mao Tse Tung, whom White supported, and Chiang Kai Shek, whom Buckley did. White mischievously offered to share the worst thing he knew about Mao if Buckley would share the worst thing he knew about Chiang. Imagine if we were all willing to (mischievously) share with our adversaries the biggest weaknesses in our own views.


Jozette Martinez commented on January 26, 2015 at 9:45am:

Ooh! I want to go!

If I was to design a space for this museum, I would included a crying room. It would be an intentional space to celebrate the pain of conflict, both internally as well as externally. The way we shun pain and discontent in our culture gives rise to so many mental and physical ailments. what if it was instead celebrated, as a form of learning from mistakes?

Great thought provoking piece, Sandy! Thank you!

Sandy Merz Sandy Merz commented on January 26, 2015 at 5:25pm:

Great observation

I think so much of the defensiveness that we see in conflict comes from avoiding or resisting pain caused by our advesaries - both when they hit on a point we can accept without a cost, but know is truthful and when they (we) express themselves (ourselves) in cruel, mean ways. 

Yes, let's find some crying spaces in the museum.


Kris Giere commented on January 26, 2015 at 4:21pm:

Count me in!

I think this is a great way to help us foster creativity in the "otherside" of any contested topic.  It also has a great potential as a reflection tool.  I love it!

Sandy Merz Sandy Merz commented on January 26, 2015 at 5:30pm:

Creativity comes from being challenged

I agree completely that nothing fosters creativity like bonding with "othersiders." Thanks for your comments.


Alice John commented on February 2, 2015 at 6:48am:


very informative blog  thanks for giving Step by step instructions  

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