The experiment is over, and it was a bittersweet experience letting it go.
As it is with so many things in life, it occurs to me that my endeavor to create a diverse group to debate differing political ideas with civility was both a phenomenal success and an utter failure. We called this group “Thinking Politics” and its membership quickly swelled beyond my expectations.
Last night, I had the pleasure of participating in the phenomenal success part; but it was the utter failure part that led me to let go of the reins, end the “experiment” and let the group go wherever it wants; allow the other members of this “secret” social media group to experience true self-determination.
I started the group, and until last night served as its primary moderator. Admittedly, I tried to control the group: to maintain a balance between liberal and conservative thought.
My bigger mistake, however, was trying to appease all members of the group, and that caused a lot of anger and dissension.
A few months ago there was a schism of sorts. Roughly 20 percent of the members left the group after I announced that we would leave religion out of our political conversations.
I was angry that these departing members hijacked my group’s name and started a similar group entitled Thinking Politics/Free Speech, as if free speech has no limits.
But the bulk of the original group’s members remained, yet still the dynamic I envisioned never really materialized in a substantive way.
I wanted to see if there would be more intellectual curiosity; if members would be willing to re-examine and challenge their own political pre-conceptions and beliefs.
One of the problems is that the group quickly became dominated by one side of the political aisle. Those in the minority felt frustrated and stopped participating.
In a recent Facebook post, Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under President Clinton, spoke of the value of having his ideas challenged by a good friend during a monthly lunch meeting.
Perhaps that is why last night was such a stunning success.
About 30 members of Thinking Politics convened for an impromptu dinner in Portland. All members, regardless of political affiliation, were invited. It was an awesome experience, full of laughter, shared experiences, good food and plenty of libation.
That experience reminded me of the Political Beer Summits I once organized with friends who often disagreed about political issues. Those summits inspired the creation of Thinking Politics.
When you’re sitting at a table, directly across from your adversary, it becomes instantly clear that you have much more in common than not. We all have funny stories, fond memories, shared experiences, including loss, fear, hope and dreams.
It’s almost impossible to establish that kind of intimacy on the internet. When you are separated by a keyboard and a monitor, it’s much easier to belittle your opponent, to say things you would never say if you were sharing a meal with them.
So, part of me thinks I failed; but as I looked around at the group last night, I also felt a certain sense of pride. The conversations were real, the friendships were plainly evident.
It was a good time for me to say goodbye, to let go of my moderator status and turn over the keys to six others.
Where Thinking Politics goes from here is unknown. What is known, however, is that I will no longer be at the helm of that ship.
My experiment is over, and I regret nothing.
A good friend from Rhode Island accompanied us to the dinner. Her observation meant a lot to me. “Look at all these people, they came from Texas, Illinois and all over, and they really want to be here and meet the other members in person. You started that, Randy, and that’s impressive.”
So, in the end, maybe my time at the helm of Thinking Politics was a stunning success; and thus, it was the perfect time to walk away and let others steer that ship.