January 26, 2022
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
A few months ago we conducted our first interview with our colleagues at Voice of Witness to launch our initiative The World As It Could Be Four Questions At A Time. The intention behind this initiative is to showcase the meaningful work of allied non-profit organizations, while also articulating how this work reflects human rights principles and strengthening connections between our organizations for on-going collaboration.
The inspiration for this initiative began in November 2021 when we published our newsletter From Futility to Possibilities to reflect on and consider strategies to address the polarizing communications of the time. We included four possible questions to discuss at Thanksgiving tables to forge positive connections among participants who might otherwise be sitting in potentially hostile disagreement. And, we republished that content in November 2022, adding as context for its continuing relevance, the vital need for people to come together and see themselves as part of the great orchestra of humanity.
What’s so important about questions as a vehicle for positive connections?
The University of Michigan Center for Positive Organizations provides a thoughtful and helpful explanation about the significance of questions in their blog titled What Questions Work For You In Building High Quality Connections? While the focus of the article is on the role of effective questions in fostering a positive work environment, the authors note at the start:
“Question-asking has been singled out as a skill important for lots of challenges including solving problems, fostering creativity, engaging organizational change, checking in with colleagues, and being an effective leader. Of late, there’s been lots of interest in relationship-building questions, especially in the sphere of romantic connections…”
In this April 2022 Harvard Business Review article titled Critical Thinking Is About Asking Better Questions, the author John Coleman notes, “…critical thinking — the ability to analyze and effectively break down an issue in order to make a decision or find a solution — will be core to your success. And at the heart of critical thinking is the ability to formulate deep, different, and effective questions…”
Why does all of this matter?
Intuitively we know that social connection provides multi-dimensional benefits, with the most basic being to give us a sense of well-being and belonging. Robert Putnam has written extensively on the importance of social connection as part of creating networks of people who care for each other and can come together for collective action. In his Primer on Social Capital, he succinctly explains what social capitalism is and the benefits that arise from nurturing this element of our societies.
We have many challenges to address in our personal lives, as well as in helping to secure safer, healthier, and more peaceful communities, locally and globally. We need to be able to connect with others, whether our best friends, family members, allies in related social justice organizations or opposing sides in a civic debate, in ways that foster good will toward collaborative problem-solving. Understanding that the use of questions to help us connect in more positive ways is an opportunity to further our capacity to see each other as human beings worthy of respect and dignity.
We hope you’ll find this a helpful perspective and motivation to connect positively and collaborate with others. To that end, in addition to those we’ve included above, here are two of our resources on Navigating Complex Issues and Communications and Using the UDHR to Guide Positive Community Action.
With continuing hope, appreciation, and best regards,
Sandy Sohcot, Director
Connecting to the themes presented in this newsletter, here are some additional resources.
From Voice of Witness:
The World As It Could Be, an Alameda County human rights education program and long-term Voice of Witness partner, recently sat down with VOW staff to discuss human rights education, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and our work.
The interview is a part of their new initiative, The World As it Could Be: Four Questions at a Time, which aims to build relationships among organizations in the nonprofit sector and beyond, as well as to connect community-based work to the UDHR.