Five Levels of Discourse in Building Healthy Communities

(Adapted) Primary source: John T. Kesler, Healthy Communities and Civil Discourse


1. Influence and even control decisions by individuals, institutions, and interest groups. Used to getting what they want due to power, money and influence (e.g., government, powerful industries, Wall Street).

 2. Here we take responsibility for respecting other’s rights if we are to enjoy our own. Gets us no further than balancing and accommodating interests. Doesn’t lead us to maximizing personal or community health. This can result in confrontations and win-lose outcomes (e.g., dispute resolution, such as mediation, arbitration).

 3. Calls for a higher cognitive and moral awareness and a deep sense of empathy. Works well with homogeneous ethnic and socioeconomic groups (town meetings). Focus is on responsibility and ownership / accountability. Here priorities, policies, plans are developed consistent with values conducive to personal and community flourishing. By participating, people begin to own it and work together (e.g., healthy communities initiatives, HW2020).

 4. Includes voices not usually heard. Level 3 is good but insufficient as it’s too easy to be satisfied with priorities and may not consider the entire community. Address fairness, social justice, universal respect and public policy. Look beyond the issues and solutions that arise out of discourse / dialogue. Finding commonalities can bridge deep cultural differences, and can yield policy implications that are broader than the scope of the initiating community (e.g., housing, homelessness, education).

 5. Extends concern for justice and fairness for each individual without giving up principles of fairness and social justice. Reflects The Golden Rule. Provides the opportunity to promote the highest traditions of a caring and nurturing society (e.g., voting, civil rights, human rights).











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