Braver Angels: Creating better conversations to combat polarization
Oct 2, 2023, 7:30 PM | Updated: Oct 3, 2023, 10:24 am
SALT LAKE CITY — Americans on the left, the right and the middle disagree on a lot of things, that’s not new. What is new is that disagreement has come to include disdain for the other side. Braver Angels is an organization working to address this polarization in America.
Braver Angels founder David Blankenhorn said the organization began shortly after the 2016 presidential election when he noticed polarization between people who voted for former President Donald Trump and people who voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Blankenhorn was in New York City, where the majority of people voted for Clinton. He said everyone around him was upset and “felt like they had been shot in the stomach.” He called a friend who lived in South Lebanon, Ohio, where the majority of people had voted for President Trump. This friend told Blankenhorn the people of South Lebanon were “feeling pretty good” about the election results.
“So, we were talking about the polarization in the country,” Blankenhorn said. “And we said, ‘In three weeks, we’re gonna have a meeting … We’re going to bring together 10 people who had just voted proudly for Hillary Clinton and 10 who had just voted proudly for Donald Trump. We’re gonna see if we can actually talk with each other, instead of at each other or about each other.”
Blankenhorn describes this meeting as “magical.” He said, after the meeting, the 20 people felt better about each other and better about the country.
“Now we’ve done thousands of these things around the country,” Blankenhorn said. “We’re a grassroots movement to do that thing, those encounters, between people who have strong political disagreements. We don’t try to change their mind about politics. We try to change their mind about each other.”
Braver Angels works to overcome political division
Braver Angels National Leader John Wood Jr. said this is “quite literally the application of marriage counseling to the relationship between Republicans and Democrats.”
“From that first, sort of, family-style workshop has evolved a suite of offerings that Braver Angels has developed,” he said.
For example, Braver Angels has a workshop called Depolarizing Within. According to Wood, this workshop focuses on people’s inner monologue.
“We all have an inner voice,” Wood said. “And sometimes when we see somebody, you know, wearing the wrong T-shirt, the wrong hat [or] the wrong bumper sticker… it triggers, sometimes, an uncharitable way of thinking [of] that person. So, this workshop is aimed at, sort of, counteracting that internally.”
Another workshop, Skills For Bridging The Divide, focuses on the “art of empathetic conversation across political divides,” according to Wood. Yet another, Braver Angels Debates, brings groups of people together to debate issues in the interest of “the communal pursuit of truth.”
“There are all these different techniques, but the unifying starting point … is that whatever your politics, the shared obligation we have of coming into the conversations is to pursue them from a spirit of good faith [and] from a spirit of goodwill. Meaning well towards the other party, regardless of the disagreements and being willing to honor the human dignity in that individual or in that group of people.”
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