Bob Yano wants to sit down and talk — to you.
He wants to discuss politics, religion, what’s happening in Toledo, anything of substance, really. He wants to do it without bickering, sans ugliness.
“Look at our Congress. Nobody can talk to each other,” said the 66-year-old from Fayette in Fulton County.
Liberal or conservative, religious or not — many seem stuck in their traditions and doctrines, intent on refuting, not listening, he said.
He has an idea to try to change that in a small way. Mr. Yano is launching the Inquiring Mind Cafe, a discussion group set to hold its first meeting at 10 a.m. today at Barry Bagels, 302 W. Dussel Drive in Maumee.
He doesn’t know how many people might show up. Maybe just him, or perhaps dozens. But he wants to give it a shot.
“If I get one person who’s interested in talking, we’re going to have the meeting,” he said.
Mr. Yano publicized the group’s first meeting, which he plans to moderate, through event listings in local news outlets, by emailing people in academic departments at the University of Toledo, and tacking posters on bulletin boards around the area.
He wants to encourage tolerant and thoughtful discussion but doesn’t expect participants to reach consensus. The meeting will start by asking those who show up what they want to discuss.
The cafe could become a monthly event if there’s interest.
Similar efforts popped up around the nation in recent years, from groups associated with colleges and libraries to online forums that foster civil discussion among those with opposing viewpoints, said Jane Prescott-Smith, managing director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona.
“People engage in virulent rhetoric because they can’t think of any other way to be impactful,” she said.
But people can learn to make a point while avoiding personal attacks, vulgarity, and profanity, she said.
“It’s not rocket science,” Ms. Prescott-Smith said. “It’s just basic principles like looking for shared values, listening with curiosity, and speaking from the heart … really simple things to teach.”
She thinks the deterioration of civil debate is partly because schools don’t focus as much on debate skills and public discourse in classes.
The nonpartisan institute formed in 2011 in the aftermath of the deadly shooting in Tucson that injured former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. At that time, people started talking about how “to disagree without being disagreeable,” she said.
“I think there’s a real hunger among American citizens to learn how to re-engage,” Ms. Prescott-Smith said.
Mr. Yano said he’s been a longtime reader on issues of religion and politics. He wrote and self-published a book titled My Children, My Truth, Your father, Your Father. It was aimed at his three sons, but he said he’s given away many copies.
A forensic consultant who works with attorneys and insurance companies in the technical aspects of litigation, he also started the food pantry Fayette’s Helping Hands Inc.
He views lack of civility as an obstacle to compromise, an impediment to progress on problems such as poverty.
“Let’s listen to each other, and put yourself in the other person’s shoes,” he said.