Changing our Consciousness Logo

Changing Our Consciousness
Imagining the emotional experience of the other


See Also

Emotional Imprint


The mission of COC is closely aligned with that of the Hot Stove Project The Hot Stove Project

"The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization."
– Sigmund Freud

The Waging Dialogue project, COC’s first initiative, is the heart of our research effort. It was conceived on a hypothesis: that prejudice and aggression are innate to the human condition and can't be adequately contained until the beliefs and feelings that lie beneath them are given a safe arena for exploration and understanding. I believed that as people became more aware of their conscious and unconscious prejudices and helped others identify those dynamics in themselves, they would develop greater personal insight and empathy toward others, channel aggression constructively, and be able to work together to discover creative solutions to social problems.

The project began in 2004 with the Waging Dialogue Forums. By 2011, there were seven active, moderated, online forums, with a total membership of 229. Participants from different backgrounds and world views accepted a contract to discuss issues ranging from “Antisemitism and Islamophobia” to “Wealth, Poverty, and the Middle Class.” These forums are now defunct, but you can read more about them here.

At their best, the forums highlighted the clumsiness of participants in identifying and responding appropriately to the emotional experience of the Other. I began to conceptualize the problem as a language yet to be learned and understood, and thus the concept of an academic curriculum in emotional literacy, now known as Emotional Imprint™, began to take form.

At their worst, the forums created microcosms of the warring societies that they were designed to discuss. Aggressive attacks happened daily, and little effort was made to understand people of different points of view or to look for answers from within. The forum on Antisemitism and Islamophobia developed a powerful, frightening dynamic that closely resembled the actual Middle East conflict. We seemed to be re-enacting the conflicts in the larger society, rather than discovering ways to understand and channel the emotions.

As forum activity died down, we decided to retire them and invite interested participants to test a new hypothesis: that safety, empathy and creativity MAY more readily emerge in the newer, more public “social networks.” Perhaps a third party – an observing, participating and challenging “other” – can catalyze insight and change. So, in 2010 we adopted the WD model for a new project, the Depth Perception Party, a Facebook political discussion group dedicated to the discovery of creative solutions to political conflict through the ability to imagine the emotional experience of the other. Our metaphor is the struggle to develop our capacity to see out of our “right eye” and our “left eye” at the same time. When we view the world through just one eye, we cannot see depth. Using our right AND left eyes, we see in a more complex way; we focus on the horizon and move toward it. When representatives of the Right pit themselves against those of the Left, the result is bitterness and stalemate, or compromises that blur rather than sharpen our vision. Whatever perspective we favor, we must learn to understand how the opposite side sees, and find intersection points that open paths to forward movement.

Depth Perception Party has been merged into our new group, Catalysis. Provocative questions are posted there daily, and are met with thoughtful responses and often intensely heated debate. What is unique about this group, in comparison to others we have observed on this and similar platforms, has been the retention of participants from one topic to the next and a general willingness to revert back to civility even when the previous topic became overly heated to the point of personal attacks.

This is possible because participants make a comitment that they are not there merely to represent themselves or their sides. They share a desire to catalyze social change by working to understand opposing worldviews, locate short and long term horizons, support creative leadership, and imagine new solutions to longstanding political conflict. Anyone who chooses to read the threads and participate may do so. With the 2020 Presidential campaign underway, our goal and method has never been more timely.

If this sounds like an experiment you would like to be a part of, please Join the Group!