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Why Asking the Tough Questions Builds Stronger Communities


On May 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) does something that’s not popular with everyone.

The WHO and partner organizations across the globe mark World No Tobacco Day. This year, the goal is to convince more nations to raise the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Again, it’s not a universally embraced cause. But the WHO isn’t afraid of tackling the controversial topics for the greater good.

Neither are many city governments, that seek out public opinion before making tough decisions.

In Denton, Texas, city leaders did just that in 2013, as they debated enacting a public smoking ban. Not only did the city bring the people in on the conversation, but they provided an online poll for them to definitively weigh in, along with plenty of background information on what a smoking ban would mean.

Armed with the opinions of an educated public – 204 in favor of a ban, 79 against – Denton city council passed the smoking ban ordinance. It went into effect in April 2013.

Later that year, the city also considered banning cell phones for drivers. Another online poll revealed public support, and city council passed an ordinance banning texting and other handheld phone use behind the wheel in May 2014.

Elsewhere, in Iowa City, Iowa, educators are faced with school redistricting. Knowing that the thought of possibly changing schools would be uncomfortable for parents and students, the Iowa City School District opened up debate about new school borders online. The conversation has so far drawn 4,400 opinions, comments and ideas from community members with a stake in the decision.

The people asking these difficult questions are just that. People. They are affected by decisions, just like community members. Creating a two-way dialogue can bring out passionate debate, but it can also make that similarity more apparent.

So when faced with a fiery topic – something like the Keystone XL Pipeline or marijuana legalization or gun rights – start a conversation. Connecting with people around the divisive questions will lead to stronger relationships and clearer answers.


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