We can talk, but can we listen?

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MANCHESTER — After over 100 community members attended the Manchester Community Library's "Can We Talk?" workshop this July, the MCL plans to tackle listening skills next.

Based on requests from the community, the library will host "Can We Listen? Bridging the Political Divide," featuring Mediator Peter Pagnucco, J.D on Sept. 25 at 7 p.m.

"Our last event was a really great start to building a foundation to bridge the political divide, and a lot of people expressed a desire to follow up with additional meetings," said Adult Services Librarian Cindy Waters. "The committee got together to discuss the next step, and we all agreed that in order to communicate effectively we need to be more aware of, and practice, active listening."

While the committee behind "Can We Talk?" — Rabbi Michael Cohen, Judy Livingston, Ed Morrow, and Ruth Hoffman — felt that the first event was a success, there is still work to be done according to Waters.

"In the first discussion we were trying to help people understand who the other people were, and develop relationships," said Waters. "The questions were designed to allow people to get to know one another. We really felt like that was a good start, but we wanted to continue."

Under the leadership of Pagnucco, owner of Pagnucco Dispute Resolution and director of the Mediation Clinic at Bennington College, participants will have the opportunity to enhance their listening skills through a presentation and activity.

"I'm happy to be a part of it, and donate whatever experiences and skills I have to share with the community," said Pagnucco. "I'm excited to see whether it resonates with them and makes a difference."

Pagnucco will first present an approach to conflict and difference that helps enable comfort and confidence for listening despite disagreements, then address skills that help us listen to understand and create learning conversations.

"Peter has such an impressive background in helping people who are in situations of conflict, all kinds of conflict, come together and communicate with one another," said Waters. "I think that it will be a fruitful experience for everyone."

"You may come away with more ability to have a discussion with someone you disagree with, be more comfortable having those conversations, and maybe gain some new listening skills," said Pagnucco. "Next time you have a conversation with someone you disagree with, perhaps you can play some of these skills to your benefit and theirs as well."

Those listening skills can prove beneficial beyond political discussions, says Waters.

"I hope that this helps to acknowledge that everybody's viewpoint is important," said Waters. "It's important to listen to other people so you can try to understand where they're coming from, and see where you have common ground."

Though the change may not be groundbreaking, it will be enough if just one person is impacted according to Pagnucco.

"I don't have any grandiose ideas about how this will impact the community, but perhaps it will help one person have an opportunity to communicate with someone they disagree with in a more productive way, which can make their lives or experiences a little better," said Pagnucco. "If it makes a difference to one person, that's exciting and worthwhile to me."

Organizers hope that in working to enhance communication within the Manchester community, they can play some small role in bridging political differences. The library encourages participants from across the political spectrum to attend.

"I think that the fact that so many people attended the last program is evidence that people in our community are feeling a disconnect from one another regarding the political divide, and want to do something to rectify that," said Waters. "I'm hopeful that this will help."

The event is free and open to the public, and homemade refreshments will be provided by the library's Cookie Brigade. For more information, call the library at 802-362-2607.

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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