By TOPPER STEINMAN
Some years ago, I became aware of a group facilitation technique called What ... So What ... Now What? The technique proved to be useful in moving group think through a process of going forward when a conflicting event occurred. Asking oneself or a group "What happened?"; "So what that it happened?"; and "Now what are we going to do about what happened?" seemed to be a rather simple yet introspective way to get beyond the rightness or wrongness of the past and move onto a healthier and possibly more productive look at the present and the future in or out of the lens of conflict.
I share the concept here because of its simplicity. I think the process could be helpful in our present-day political mess and mire. Considering this most recent cycle of elections, voters and others have a variety of opinions about the election results.
What happened? We re-elected our incumbent president, Barack Obama. We elected a Congress that changed ever-so-slightly with Democrats still controlling the Senate and Republicans continuing control in the House. Americans of all colors voted to help determine these results.
So what that all of this occurred? Emotions ran from elated to dismayed, from hopeful to hopeless. Echoing comments ranged from "our country remains on the right track nationally and internationally with quality leadership in a richly diverse country that honors and values the beauty of our democracy and our changing face," to "we have lost any semblance of balance and are going to hell in a hand basket with (name your beyond-white ethnicity) now ruining and trying to run our country through the leadership of an incompetent Socialist."
On to the key question: Now what are we going to do about what happened? We have options.
We can remain stuck in our What and So What dialogues. Many conflicts and people do and they remain mired in either forever justifying or bemoaning the results of what has occurred. This can go on for weeks, months, years and decades. Stagnation or escalation of discord follows.
Or we can move to higher ground, to productive dialogue and problem-solving by looking at this key question: "Now what are we going to do about what happened?" The key words are "now what" and "we." This process requires reflection, meaningful dialogue, a suspension of blame and judgement, forward movement, and a spirit and actions of some semblance of cooperative resolution.
Under our current political circumstances, the process of "whats" might sound like this. We just re-elected Obama for four more years. Opinions about the soundness of this decision vary. We are an America that over the years has changed faces. Opinions about this fact vary. We can either accept these sets of circumstances and figure out ways and means for moving ahead — or we can continue to judge the already-made decisions and stay stuck with our heads in the sand of years gone by. We have the choice to acknowledge our present and move on or the choice to bemoan our present and, well, keep bemoaning. It does not seem to me to be a difficult decision.
Here is my Now What? election results prescription: Acknowledge the joy or sorrow you feel in our set of elected officials. Vow to do what you can to keep us on the same track or to change tracks when the next election cycle occurs. In the meantime, get on board with some focused, forward-thinking methods for supporting or challenging who does what in this beautiful country of ours.
Face the facts that we are a changing America, always have been, always will be. Dealing with change is difficult, yet not impossible, as we have proven time and again. In our politics and in our lives of disconnect and disagreement, there is room for compromise, room for conflict, room for bemoaning, and room for moving on with each and every one of us helping to steer our country's ship.
Idealistic? Perhaps. But it's the heartbeat of democracy. And surely it beats the alternatives of cynicism and pessimism that seem to rule our day and keep us messed and mired.
Sometimes life and politics go smoothly. Sometimes they don't. Friction does good work — reference the pearl and the oyster. It's a good analogy for humankind. What So What and especially Now What can help us gain higher ground in our lives and in our politics when working through our issues.
Topper Steinman is an educational consultant in Champaign. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.