I am currently taking a special topics course on Citizenship Learning, Participatory Democracy, and Social Change. Even before starting the course, I knew I would be able to link much of what is studied in the class to things I have learned through my involvement with IF. Recently, I read a piece by Jane Mansbridge that made me examine the importance of democratic deliberation and how to effectively engage citizens in such a practice. Specifically the chapter had me thinking about self-interest.
IF discussions encourage participants to think broadly about a topic, promote multiple perspectives, and at times contribute ideas or opinions that they believe someone who is very different from them would possess. Under these circumstances, it seems like it would be contradictory to also stress the importance of recognizing self-interest, but it may actually be a very important component of a successful deliberation. Understanding one’s own motivations and desires can obviously help a citizen articulate their own points, but it can also serve another important purpose; to help someone realize and appreciate the perspectives of others.
There are different types of participants in all deliberations. Sure, there are those who will try and talk until their face turns blue while attempting to get their points across, but there are also those citizens who fear that sharing ideas based on their own self-interests will create some kind of conflict in the discussion. Sometimes I think facilitators inadvertently create an atmosphere where people are afraid to express self-interest because, like some participants, they fear that the discussion will become too aggressive. Taking all of this into consideration, it might be a good idea for a facilitator to encourage or at least explain the positive aspects that incorporating self-interest into discussion can bring.