Listen First Project: Debate and Conversation as Catharsis 

An extended project on Gun Reform and Policy

Forgive me literature majors as I steal from one of the greats, but to begin this post I am going to quote Aristotle. In the Poetics, Aristotle wrote, "Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions. By 'language embellished,' I mean language into which rhythm, 'harmony' and song enter. . . . " 


Aristotle believed that through tragic theater, an audience could experience a cathartic experience. By witnessing pity and fear and experiencing them as audience members, the respective viewers could expunge these emotions (or at least I am taking that interpretation for the purpose of this metaphor.


To me, debate and civil conversation over tragic events can illicit the same cathartic effect. Unfortunately, our society is awash in tragedy. We, as humans, need a way to deal with these issues, heal, and move forward. Citizen Jane Blog’s main purpose is to provide this ability.


One such tragedy that we as Americans keep experiencing and agonizing through is gun violence in our country. From mass shootings to suicides to domestic violence to gang violence (and I feel deeply saddened as I write this list), again and again we are witnessing tragedy that we just can’t seem to get a handle on. Yet again, earlier this month two tragic mass shootings occurred within days of one another in Dayton and El Paso. And yet we continue to seem stuck from moving forward on policy and on healing. We talk past each other and then move on, waiting for the next event as the wounds fester.


In an effort to help serve as a catharsis and perhaps move forward, I have conducted a project using myriad versions of debate and dialogue. For one portion, nine individuals of different backgrounds and viewpoints held a week long Facebook Messenger conversation, centering on the topic of gun policy and reform. The initial question posed was “What, if any reforms in gun policy should the government pursue (both federal and state)?” From there, different guiding questions were added on different days, all centering on this theme. The results are posted in separate Microsoft Word documents for each day, lightly edited only for glaring typos for clarity and for any emoticons or “likes” that didn’t show up well in the document copies.

Additionally, I conducted a video interview with Nicole Lesser the Deputy Leader of the New York Chapter of Moms Demand Action. She so graciously agreed to participate after I met her at a rally in White Plains, NY covering this issue and put on by her organization.

I am also including content from an interview I conducted earlier as part of a separate project I conducted entitled Make Me Understand on this same topic with Cris E. (who asked to be referred to this way for privacy purposes), a veteran and gun owner. He also took me to a gun range in an effort to help me understand his point of view. I know I have biases on this issue—I am generally speaking very in favor of multiple levels of reform. However, I do not have his background in the issue. I want/wanted to understand why he held his particular stance.

I hope that through this collaboration you all are able to also get a cathartic experience. Let us heal from these tragedies. Let us recognize their horrors and sorrows. And let’s move forward.


This project was inspired by the work of #ListenFirst and the National Conversation Project. I am including a link to their work, and highly encourage others to look into this organization. They, like Citizen Jane Blog, believe that through conversation and listening to other perspectives, even if they are extremely different than our own, we can all improve. They are a “movement to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.