Edgewood area residents had a chance to hear and be heard on July 27 as a nationwide initiative called Resetting the American Table held interviews and facilitated discussion at St. Mark Parish. The Rev. John Haugen participated in the discussion along with about 10 other community members who welcomed Eyal Rabinovitch, co-director of the Resetting the Table program.

“The point of the organization is to open up conversation across disagreement, on a range of different topics, across divides in context and in places where those divides have gotten in the way of things being productive,” said Rabinovitch. “This project for us was building over the last few years, but really in the wake of the last election, it shined a light on the ways that we have so many profound divisions in our country. It was a catalyst for us to focus on the divisiveness of the current climate.”

Participants were able to offer questions, share opinions and ask one another clarifying questions in an environment that fostered empathy rather than evoking persuasive argument. A variety of social and political viewpoints were explored and disagreement was recognized as a valid state of being rather than an endpoint or a problem to be remedied.

The program supports opening up conversation in the driftless region specifically to help people in the rest of the country better understand people and their stories in an area where they don’t otherwise have a direct link. A constant theme of the discussion is a rejection of broad brush generalizations that can reinforce division between groups of people not engaged in first hand communication. That person to person dialogue helped Haugen decide that the program was a good fit for his parish.

“We were on the phone for a long time and it was a great conversation,” said Haugen of his initial talks with Rabinovitch. “I think that to get people together there need to be formats for people to do that instead of this polarizing divisiveness that’s been going on.

“What I’ve been pleased about is the stuff that’s been in the newspaper has just gotten people talking, even if they weren’t here. There are people saying ‘Oh, I see you are having these kinds of conversations and I think it’s really interesting.’ That to me was 50 percent of it. The thing that struck me was their passion, their sincerity and earnestness about this idea about communicating. You just don’t run into that a lot.”