Jim Burke volunteered as a facilitator with the Interactivity Foundation during January-February 2021. I talked with Jim afterwards about what inspired him to volunteer, what it was like to facilitate IF discussions, and democracy in general.
I asked Jim what inspired him to reach out to us. He said that his motivation was three-fold. First, he has enjoyed IF discussions over the years. Second, he also wanted to sharpen his own facilitation skills to make the conversations with his liberal and conservative friends better. But the third factor that finally pushed him to reach out to us was the storming of the Capitol on January 6th. Jim told me: “I was looking at what was happening on the 6th, I realized that it was calling upon me to do something. I thought, ‘should I try to create something?’ and then I realized that I did not have to create anything, it already exists—and it is the Interactivity Foundation.” Jim wondered whether there is anything he could do to support IF’s efforts. So he reached out to volunteer with IF. We were very happy that Jim was able to help us develop and facilitate two discussion series: 1) Films & Conversations; and 2) Towards A More Perfect Union.
Jim helped us facilitate an event in the Films & Conversation series in which we watched a short film Exit -12 (https://www.artandhealing.org/exit-12/ ) and then had small-group conversations about it in Zoom breakout rooms. Jim thought that this combination worked well, partly because we “hit the sweet spot” with the length of the film, and partly because of the questions the facilitators asked. But “ultimately it worked so well,” Jim said, “because it offered a different space to have a dialogue.” Jim said that IF conversations allow people to be in that “liminal space” where they can linger and re-evaluate the past and reimagine the future.
Jim also helped to design and facilitate a 4-part weekly discussion series about democracy called Towards A More Perfect Union. Jim said that what he likes about IF discussions is that they create invitations for a different kind of dialogue, an “almost unbounded conversation.” He said that the participants leaned left politically, but that he was impressed that the discussion itself was very issue oriented and that there was very little personality bashing. He said that it showed him a quality of thought in America that we might have misplaced over the last few years. He said that “It is good to remind ourselves that we are pretty good folks and pretty thoughtful folks, that we really believe in justice and democracy, and democratic process—even if we disagree about how to best do it. That was impressive to me.”
In addition to facilitating, Jim participated in crafting facilitation plans and writing discussion summaries for our weekly meetings. He said that he “really appreciated the process” and found it interesting to work with IF Fellows to create these various documents and design facilitation plans.
Jim and I had a fascinating conversation about democracy in America, but he thought that “attention to democracy is ultimately taking a second seat to the pandemic.” We spent some time exploring what the pandemic revealed about our society and what the pursuit of happiness in our society could mean. IF actually has an ongoing discussion series on this topic.
From my perspective, it was wonderful to have Jim onboard. I am continually impressed by how Americans step up, volunteer, get-involved, and actively make our democracy better. Thank you, Jim, and to all the people who find a way to volunteer even during the pandemic.