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Why Contrasting Possibilities?

So much of what goes on under the name of political discussion is aimed at persuading people to accept certain public policies. And so much of what goes on in facilitated public policy discussions is aimed at bringing a group to consensus. This is not the aim of IF’s sanctuary and citizen discussions. We believe that each of us must ultimately decide for ourselves whether or not to support a particular policy. But we also think that it can be useful to discuss a wide range of policy possibilities with our neighbors before we make up our minds.

IF discussions are not debates about which policy is the best for us to adopt. They are opportunities for us to learn about the possibilities that exist, and to come to a better understanding of our own minds. We do not aim at persuading people of policies or at forging a consensus among them. We aim simply at describing the different possibilities, and at encouraging people to discuss them. Each of our policy possibilities presents a conceptual approach toward an area of concern that deserves exploration in its own right. And taken together, they represent a wide range of the different concepts, beliefs, values, interests, concerns, and goals that might motivate public policy in that area of concern.

But here, someone might ask ‘What use is it for us to discuss policy possibilities at all?’ This question goes to the very heart of what we are trying to do. It may suggest that action is all that really matters and that discussion is a waste of time. It may also suggest that the decisions will ultimately be made by an elite group of policy makers and experts regardless of what we say or do.

The discussion of contrasting policy possibilities that we envision may ultimately lead to action and should be followed up by a thoughtful discussion of the actions that might be taken to implement them. But all actions are taken to achieve some end, regardless of whether or not that end is recognized or stated. And one of the very best ways to ensure that policy choices will be made without consideration of what the citizens in that society want is for them not to have any contrasting possibilities to discuss, or any opportunities to thoughtfully discuss them. We think that the discussion of a wide range of contrasting policy possibilities may also:

  • help us to better understand our own concerns, beliefs, hopes, and desires–which in turn may help us to make better policy choices
  • promote tolerance and respect for the concerns of others by helping us to understand what they believe, hope, and desire—and why
  • help us to better evaluate the policy proposals that others might make
  • help us to treat public policy as a choice among different visions of the future–as opposed to a battle between good and evil, or right and wrong
  • help us to develop ideas that we may decide are preferable to our current ideas
  • give us recourse to several well-developed alternative policy possibilities if and when we decide to abandon the ones that we have currently chosen to pursue, and
  • leave us better equipped to exercise our democratic will at the ballot box if and when policy makers ignore our input.