The level of disdain and hatred that has evolved between liberals and conservatives in this country is terrifying and threatens to destroy the country that we all love. In my darker moments, I confess to having profound concerns about whether American democracy will survive.
At the same time, I am seeing a great willingness among people to come together and find common ground. Recently, I wrote about an effort by a small group of elected officials to take a pledge of civility and respect for others in their roles as elected officials. They are encouraging other elected officials to either adopt their pledge or reframe the ideas in ways that make sense to them.
As a result of that column, I became aware of a remarkable national program that is dedicated to depolarizing the political divide in this country on a grass-roots basis. It’s called Braver Angels and they are bringing individual conservatives and liberals together in a format that promotes the sharing of perspectives and beliefs and deliberately refraining from trying to change the minds of those who have different views.
The name is drawn from the Abraham Lincoln quote about the importance of being touched by the “better angels of our nature,” and had its beginnings after the polarizing 2016 election. A group of 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters came together in a dialogue in South Lebanon, Ohio, in April of 2017 to test the hypothesis of whether Americans could disagree respectfully and perhaps find common ground.
A video from that dialogue shows these individuals going through a dynamic process of getting into red and blue groups and identifying stereotypes that the other side had of their views. They acknowledged the grain of truth in those stereotypes but pointed out why those were not the full truth.
They went on to ask clarifying questions and then discussed what they had learned about the other side. Trump supporters and Clinton supporters talked about the ways in which they disagree with their own leaders.
Watching the video, you get a palpable sense of these individuals gradually letting their guards down and seeing people who have different views from a deeper, more nuanced perspective. Rather than enemies to be hated, they started seeing each other as fellow human beings from different life experiences and perspectives.
Out of that success of bringing together people with different views to find common ground, a national effort was launched. Braver Angels has both conservative and liberal leaders in every state working together to re-establish meaningful human connections that have been disconnected in recent years.
The central and eastern Washington chapter of Braver Angels is putting on a workshop this Saturday titled: “Depolarizing within: Becoming a better angel in your own world.” I’ve signed up to participate because I believe that change doesn’t start with someone else — it begins with each one of us looking inside our own heart and mind and acknowledging how we can do better in our own interactions.
The workshop this weekend begins with an exercise of recognizing your “inner polarizer,” the ways in which we tend to think about “those people” with whom we disagree.
Braver Angels teaches practical approaches to counteract your inner polarizer and seek to find the areas in which you find value and perhaps agreement in the positions of the other side.
If this work sounds like family therapy or classic mediation, that’s because those disciplines provide the roots of the approach.
Braver Angels also offers training on families and politics and skills for bridging the divide. In addition, they host debates on issues that eliminate confrontation and promote the sharing of deeper personal truths.
These constructive red/blue conversations are something that could help those of us in North Central Washington strengthen our communities.
We can either accept the inevitability of violence that spawned riots in some cities this past summer and the attack on the nation’s capitol last month or we can find a way to heal our wounds.
I believe that the Braver Angels approach is the most promising approach to healing our country that I have come across. I encourage you to check out braverangels.org. For more information, email email@example.com.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-665-1162.