By Rick Hotchner, Barbara Thomas, and Mohamed Ahmed
Political polarization, bitterness and contempt are dividing Americans in ways that threaten our nation’s existence. Although this state of affairs is decades in the making, respect for differences of opinion and compromise have declined sharply in recent years. Worsened by the stresses of COVID-19, as well as political rhetoric, media, social media, misinformation and disinformation designed to divide us, our country currently has a toxic brew of tribal conflict that could destroy our country from within and emboldens our foreign adversaries.
Too many of us start sentences with “those people” and tend to see things in stark contrasts. Instead of considering the limitations of ourselves and our own group, we claim the problem is all on the other side and, dangerously, we label those who disagree with us as evil or unworthy. Then, we use that designation to justify attacking and harassing our political opponents, most often verbally, but sometimes going further, causing material and even bodily injury.
While the grand majority of the American people are not extreme, our polarization is driving more and more people to the extremes. We must stop and then reverse this trend, which is preventing us from reaching a consensus on the nature and causes of our problems, and finding solutions to them. However, if people of good will who disagree are once again willing and able to talk and listen, in an effort to understand and see the humanity in each other, the common ground we find can serve as a foundation for working together to build a better future, both by solving problems in our communities and putting pressure on politicians to work together in a similar way.
Braver Angels is a grassroots movement dedicated to just this purpose. It was created after the 2016 election and has grown into a nationwide organization with a presence in all 50 states. Braver Angels’ mission is to depolarize our country. Using concepts and conflict-resolution techniques derived from marriage and family counseling, Braver Angels puts on workshops that teach the fundamental skills needed to communicate with people with whom we disagree, and provides opportunities to practice those skills and inform ourselves about issues in structured debates, book discussions, one-on-one discussions, and other activities.
Learning and using these skills can yield benefits in our personal relationships, within our communities, and for the role our communities play within the larger polity. In addition, these skills that are critical to the future health of our political discourse and country are also applicable and useful in many other aspects of our lives.
Ultimately, to be healthy and successful, our democratic republic depends on the constructive civic engagement of all Americans. At this time of extreme polarization, our country needs each of us to make a decision to step up and be part of the solution. The investment all of us put into this effort will pay dividends at the individual, community, state and national levels. The more of us who engage, the better off we all will be. Ultimately, it is up to all of us. No one is coming to save us; we have to save ourselves. The majority of us who are peaceful and not extremist have to pull together to show in our words and actions that we do not accept the divisive approach to politics, will not participate in it, and, to the contrary, will work to build bridges between ourselves and those who see things differently than we do.
To that end, Barbara, Rick and Mohamed, as members of Braver Angels, strongly encourage our fellow Americans to join Braver Angels as well, take part in Braver Angels events, and find ways to volunteer. We respectfully ask that you go to www.braverangels.org for more information, we thank you in advance for your consideration, and we hope you will join us by becoming part of this grassroots movement.