How polarized is the United States? With how many of your family members, friends and associates are you unable to discuss political subjects?
Do you avoid listening to viewpoints you oppose? Are you afraid of offending others with your opinions? Do you listen/read/watch sources of news and commentary for accurate information and insightful analysis, or to comfortably reinforce what you already think is true?
What will your reaction be if the presidential candidate you oppose wins? Can a democracy survive if its citizens cannot discuss matters of common concern in a civil manner, and accept election results with grace, if not equanimity?
Many think that disdain for the “other side” is reaching alarming levels. The November 2018 “Midterm Update” from More in Common’s Hidden Tribes project (https://hiddentribes.us/) found 86% of Americans worrying that political divisiveness will lead to increasing violence.
We are not headed for another civil war. However, there can be no doubt that the level of polarization we are experiencing is corrosive. Extreme polarization is destructive of personal relationships, essential political discourse and a cohesive social fabric. Fortunately, many organizations and individuals have recently started to focus on defusing and healing our divisions.
Now is a particularly important time to be doing this work. We are rapidly approaching an election, the results of which will push one large segment of our populace into angry despair and the other into gleeful triumph – an explosive and toxic mixture.
We are volunteers supporting the work of Braver Angels, a 501(c)(3) organization formed a few years ago to help bridge the divides that are driving the country into factions that don’t understand each other and don’t talk to each other.
Braver Angels is all volunteer, except for a small support staff. We give our time to Braver Angels because it promotes the exchange of ideas by teaching people how to listen and how to speak to each other – skills that are essential for depolarizing the current political and cultural environment. Among its activities are workshops, discussions and debates (using its own inclusive and no-winner, no-loser format). Most of these events are still online, owing to COVID-19. Check them out under “What We Do,” at https://braver angels.org.
Braver Angels is launching an initiative called “With Malice Toward None,” which is designed to bring Americans together through the election with a commitment to mutual respect and cooperation. Emotions will be running high. The temptations will be to gloat or to grieve and denigrate.
However, we can rise above those temptations and deal with our emotions in supportive communities. We can find common ground with each other where possible, and (within reason) work to understand and respect those who hold opinions that differ from ours and who supported the “other” candidate.
Braver Angels will provide religious communities, colleges and civic groups with free meeting templates, facilitator training and other resources for online or in-person gatherings before and/or after the election. To register for more information on With Malice Toward None, visit https://braverangels.org/what-we-do/with-malice-toward-none/. Do it now – it will feel good to begin contributing to the healing that we desperately need!
Braver Angels was inspired by the words of Abraham Lincoln, who not only called on us as Americans to summon the “better angels” of our nature to overcome the passions that strain, “but must not break, our bonds of affection” – but called on us to find the courage needed to pursue a more perfect union, “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right.”