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Building Bridges in Our Divided Country

Connie Coyne  | Published on 12/16/2020

December’s General Meeting attendees were graced with a thought provoking, practical and informative presentation by Elaine Herda, Debate Chair for Braver Angels.  Through a video, power point and breakout sessions Ms. Herda effectively combined two 2.5-hour Braver Angels Workshops into a concise session which included specific listening and speaking skills, in order to promote civil discourse and ultimately to help unify our divided country.  

 

She began with an overview of Braver Angels, whose bipartisan purpose is to promote respect, empathy and courage by transcending our differences and with the ultimate effect of depolarizing our nation.

 

The forces for polarization have never been stronger, with the rise of identity group politics/tribalism absent policy considerations, and the reinforcement of “our side” through social media outlets.  To effect change, to build bridges Braver Angels advocates for building relationships “across the divide”. 

 

We were shown a powerful and moving video, “Introducing Braver Angels” (*website link below) which depicts communities with diverse views actively working to improve civil discourse, recognizing the dangers of our current “cold civil war”.  Braver Angels believes that one by one and together, we can build momentum to build a more unified America. 

 

To achieve this, each of us, regardless of our political leaning, needs to courageously engage with “the other”.  We need to respectfully listen and hear their needs, and to engage in constructive dialogue, not to persuade others, but to find common ground. 

And to do this we each need to sharpen our interaction skills, both listening and speaking.  Despite the challenges of Zoom, we then engaged in skill building, first with a review of the key components of effective listening and then a breakout session in pairs.  We were read a statement and were each asked to paraphrase it by acknowledging what we heard was said.   We then reconvened.  Ms. Herda then reviewed a short list of effective speaking skills and we stayed in the larger group to hear a few participants practice these skills. 

 

After lively discussion, Ms. Herda closed with some tips on how to handle difficult moments (e.g. stay focused, don’t return provocative statements; agree to disagree) and some final thoughts for finding common ground. 

 

Her emphasis throughout is that change begins with “me”; how we regard and talk with and about people on the other side makes a difference; either promoting or weakening civility.  In order to preserve relationships we need to find common ground and actively and respectfully seek to understand.

 

 

For more information go to:  https://braverangels.org/

For video “Introducing Braver Angels” go to:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ap3GLx5cepI&feature=youtu.be