Rogers: A measure of heart for discussion |

Rogers: A measure of heart for discussion

Aspen Times editor Don Rogers
Courtesy photo

Lead with Love recently hosted a remarkable Zoom session on the knottiest, most vexing problem we have in communication.

The surface topic, what the speakers were discussing, was the political divide, the worst expression of the underlying issue after middle school.

Politics is the most obvious symptom, then, and social media the most enabling vector in the destruction of communication even as it electrifies gossip, that sticky syrup of information, misinformation, disinformation, insults, bullying and bald lies.

We have the most information in history at our fingertips, as well as the most corrupting nonsense, another circle of hell for Dante.

We also have choice, more choice than ever, including the choice to count not only our losses but also the blessings we’ve gained in pursuit of gratitude and maybe a little clearer perspective on reality.

The past informs, the future beckons, and the present is where we live, our greatest ongoing opportunity if we’re alert to our agency — putting our hopes and sense of ability to progress ahead of fear, which of course will always dog us, too.

In a sense, this is the Paepcke outlook about the human spirit flourishing that might be most responsible for Aspen standing out today as the apex of ski towns. It’s the why, or part of the why, for the existence of a heart-centered organization such as Lead with Love basing itself right here. Aspen at best is a beacon for the world.

But the Zoom session was most remarkable for a simple chart. Funny how so much of genius is simple, or at least deceptively so. E equals mc squared and the like.


The chart comes down to a scale from 1 to 8. The genius lies in the simple wording for each point and the utility for scoring discussion, especially political discussion.

Let’s start at the midpoint, No. 5: “Level five listens to the other side’s point of view and respectfully explains their own goals, views, and plans.”

Levels 4 and 6 should give you an idea where this goes.

No. 4: “Level four mocks and attacks the other side’s background, their beliefs, their commitment, their competence, their performance.”

No. 6: “Level six sees it as a welcome duty to work with the other side to find common ground and act on it.”

Here’s where you can find the Dignity Index online:

But let’s continue, first with the descent into utter contempt …

No. 3: “Level three attacks the other side’s moral character, not just their capabilities or competence.”

No. 2: “Level two accuses the other side not just of doing bad or being bad, but promoting evil.”

No. 1: “Level one escalates from violent words to violent actions. It’s a combination of feeling the other side is less than human and calling for or approving violence.”

And then toward dignity …

No. 7: “Level seven wants to fully engage the other side — discussing the deepest disagreements they have to see what breakthroughs they can find.”

No. 8: “I see myself as part of every group, I refuse to hate anyone, and I offer dignity to everyone.”


Tim Shriver, one of the presenters in the Lead with Love session Jan. 10, started by co-founding UNITE to work on “easing divisions, prevent violence and solve problems in our country.” He’s the chair of Special Olympics and a leader in the social and emotional learning movement, according to the website. He’s been a high school and college teacher, and a fellow at the Yale Child Study Center.

He’s also a warm and engaging speaker, judging by the session. He described how the Dignity Index has been road tested, let’s say, at the University of Utah with students using the index as a scorecard during election debates.

The idea isn’t only to score the level of discussion, but to see if it can be used to improve the discussion. Hearing other viewpoints, after all, certainly would seem to be the key to movement. But it takes real effort to slip out of notches we may have carved over time into levels of contempt for certain others.

Yes it’s all very aspirational. Listen to real life conversation and note the fear-based expressions that lock in on us vs. them. There’s plenty of work to reach the holding hands and rainbows stage that No. 8 paints.

Thing is, I happen to believe it. I drank all the Kool-Aid in the session and thirst for more. Never mind that I stumble and fumble and land on No. 4 and nudge into No. 3 at my most despicable. I know in my heart I’m a big, bodacious No. 8. Try not to fall out of your chair.

An overriding goal for organizations like Lead with Love is to connect our hearts with how we put ourselves out there in the world. That is, how we communicate.

There will always be a time and place for you rapier wits, that sharp word to the good, clapping back at nonsense. Every coach and orchestra conductor knows this, no fun as it has been when I’ve been jolted out of a stale pattern. I doubt the message is to be fake or pee on your own tail trying to be agreeable.

This is about awareness — while listening and while speaking. The index is a means of scoring the content of a discussion, possibly a guide to how we talk with one another, and a handy review of the all too human gap between our heart and our words.

The index is also a mirror. That is, are you driven in a tense moment primarily by love or by fear? One is easy, reactive, destructive. The other, alas, requires real work, and can be scary.

Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at