It’s not easy to keep two opposing truths in your mind at the same time. We have to do it ourselves, but we can’t do it alone. That is a great pair of truths, taught to me by Larry Wilson, of Wilson Learning.
I see it as an example of the Blue and Red divide we have today. We could say that the Red folks have been the grownups in the room, always saying “No” and the Blues, the kids saying, “Why not this? Why not that?” It seems to me that the two must come together if we are to make progress.
In our community, that coming together is often called “The Delaware Way” where the two sides come together for constructive compromise in the small state next door. But the well-liked Senator is up for re-election and is being challenged in the primary by someone who says he compromises too easily with those evil people.
We tend to take sides as we are encouraged by our two-party system: Progressives (Blue),“Yes, we can,” and Conservatives (Red),“No, you can’t.” This is the spirit of “It takes a Village” vs the “American Pioneer.” I know these are gross generalizations and the current political climate is more complicated as not all conservatives vote Republican and not all progressives vote Democrat. On top of this it has been shown Americans are more likely to prioritize themselves over a group and they value independence and autonomy as a culture.
I think it is healthy to have these two competing ideas. People must be responsible for their own lives, but our society can’t maximize its success unless we help each other.
Plus, we are building our lives around our own prejudices. We watch, read and listen to people who tell us what we want to hear and are ending up arguing with each other from a different set of “true facts.” The Pew Research Center found that the average partisan gap has increased from 15 percentage points in ’94 to 36 points today.
Our country is breaking down; polarization may have reached its worst level in the US since the Civil War. In our book, “The Story of Kennett”, the stress test to measure the quality of a community addresses how important it is to not spend time arguing Left vs Right. We need to be working Kennett’s problems with the best solutions.
To a great extent the answer to what makes our community a success is each child must learn to live a sustainable life, but they need their parents, the schools and the community to help them get there. It really does take a village. We are all in this world together and we have to help solve our problems of climate crisis, world peace, education, hunger, and poverty together.
Because of the bitterness caused by the way people are talking about one another, Grayfred Gray,a Quaker from the Kendal Community, and a number of local people have been trying to address this problem by focusing on the listening side of communication.
To this end, we found a national organization named Better Angels that trains people in how to communicate across the political divides. We went to their workshop on building these skills, which you can see on YouTube. Look up “Better Angels Skills Workshop Part 1 and 2” where a Better Angels founder, Bill Doherty, leads a workshop on skill development.
In the workshop, the goals of the political conversation are to gain perspective, convey your own perspective and discover common ground if it’s there. To make the conversation work they want you to not try to change core attitudes and beliefs.
The key to success is showing respect, curiosity, and openness. Let the other person save face, no one is portrayed as stupid, blind, narrowly self-serving or bigoted. Listen and speak to convey common values and concerns. The Better Angels use four skill sets: 1. Setting a constructive tone. 2. Listening in a way that the other person feels heard. 3. Speaking in a way that helps the other person hear you. 4. Handling difficult moments.
I was impressed with how much the training was like couples training. Half of all marriages fail in our country and they are communicating with someone they probably loved.
Doing it with someone that has a different belief system is harder. Almost 90% of Democrats and Republicans have an unfavorable rating of the other side. Better Angels wants you to learn to set the tone, let the other person know that you want to understand their perspectives better. Acknowledge your perspective. Offer something critical of your own side and credit something positive about the other side.
It is also important we develop our listening skills. Learn to paraphrase what the other person is saying so they can correct your understanding or agree that you heard them. Develop questions that support understanding instead of a “gotcha” question. Listen for underlying values and aspirations and acknowledge them.
Speaking skills are just as important. Use “I” statements, such as, “This is how I feel.” more often than the truth statement, “This is how it is.” Look for common ground and areas of similarity or agreement. Before expressing disagreement, say some version of “I hear you.” Say something about what life experiences have led you to your passion and beliefs.
Better Angels has 500 trained individuals to resource the skills workshop and they are trying to keep our country from bifurcating into dust. They don’t expect to change anyone’s opinion, just their ability to work together. That may help some people stop hating each other--It’s a start.