We are not enemies, but friends … Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. – President Abraham Lincoln, in his First Inaugural Address
For meaningful, productive dialogue about issues, try participating in a group that provides scaffolding. Trained facilitators keep the experience not only safe but also enriching. I joined a group called Braver Angels
–originally called “Better Angels”–to work toward common ground with those holding opposing political views. I chronicled my initiation experience for the Baltimore Sun
A few of Better Angels’s statements that help in their mission include:
- We state our views freely and fully, without fear.
- We welcome opportunities to engage with those with whom we disagree.
- We treat people who disagree with us with honesty and respect.
- We seek to disagree accurately, avoiding exaggeration and stereotypes.
- We look for common ground where it exists, and if possible, find ways to work together.
- We believe that all of us have blind spots and none of us is not worth talking to.
- We believe that, in disagreements, both sides share and learn. In Braver Angels, neither side is teaching the other or giving feedback on how to think or say things differently.
On the individual, quotidian level, in our neighborhoods and in our extended families, one of the best approaches is a proven practice in business management: ask good questions
. Rather than avoiding tough issues, inquire authentically about the other’s point of view and reasoning for arriving at it. Pass no judgment, but ask, as a true reporter would, “What? How? Why?” Then listen actively
. It’s a natural human desire to be seen and heard. Whereas a positive outcome is not guaranteed, you will have achieved something extraordinary. As author of Social Change 2.0: A Blueprint for Reinventing Our World David Gershon states
, “Whenever we bring the desire for the world’s healing out into the open … we help others do this, too. The power of example is contagious.”
We need our communities, and they need us. In addition, resilient communities are key to living in times of climate emergencies, so building them is proactive on multiple fronts. Indeed, bravely and compassionately establishing “bonds of affection” is a true act of patriotism about which you can feel pride–a gratifying emotion and one that is a valuable commodity in these hypercritical times.
The below is a passage from the conclusion of my book Aftermath,
and despite a year of ongoing propaganda in the right-wing media and political warfare by Republican malefactors, I stand by these words:
[T]he country has a lot of work to do going forward. Not just in saving democracy, but also in saving our children, our planet, and ourselves, for it is impossible to flourish in the state of anxiety and distrust that has prevailed over the last four years, and which was simmering earlier than that.
Things may seem irrecoverable. But this is not necessarily how the future needs to unfold. If we can learn to work together in more productive ways without recklessly casting aspersions on others with whom we have disagreements, a different and better American can emerge.
What is of paramount importance is the idea that we must not give up. As psychologist Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, wrote, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”
And on January 6, 2022, although President Biden finally called out Trump for provoking the insurrection and subsequent efforts to undermine democracy, he also urged Americans to come together to defend it, “to keep the promise of America alive.”
Biden concluded by emphasizing his conviction that regardless of differences, any two people can connect, as well as his faith that, “we’re one nation, under God, indivisible.” No matter how you feel about the word “God,” I too have faith that if we commit to building community with patience and grace, we can both secure Biden’s vision and work toward progress in the existential crisis every one of us cares about: preserving a livable climate for the next generations.