Braver Angels, is a US think tank that has taken on the daunting task of trying to get people at the opposite ends of the political spectrum to listen to each other. The organization was formed primarily by academics and church leaders representing a grassroots movement to depolarize America’s politics. Their board of directors, staff, workshop participants, and funding sources — all are balanced between liberals and conservatives.
They now have more than 11,000 members working in their project, With Malice Toward None, to collect individual pledges not to “hold hate” toward others who vote differently. A signer pledges “to understand the concerns and aspirations of those who voted differently,” to listen to the opposition rather than fear the opposition. It’s an exercise in self-control that is particularly relevant to our presidential election, since they see evidence “that we are now as polarized as we have been since the Civil War.”
One of Braver Angels tools is the staging of debates that are posted on social media. Unlike most political debate s that descend into shouting and cross-talking, a Braver Angels Debate is a highly structured conversation in which a group of people think together, listen carefully to one another, and allow themselves to be touched and perhaps changed by each other’s ideas. Braver Angels website says when these debates are done well, “everyone walks out a little closer to the truth, more aware of the validity in opposing views, and with tighter community relationships.”
The skillful choice of a resolution (the idea under discussion), together with a highly structured format, encourages the passionate and energetic expression of ideas and, likewise, the passionate and energetic challenging and supporting of those ideas through questions and subsequent speeches. However, the format requires that all questions be addressed to the Chair, which insulates people somewhat from speeches and questions challenging their positions, and dampens the potential for individual reactivity.
Recently Braver Angels staged a debate asking the question, “Is Cancel Culture erasing free speech?” featuring Andrew Sullivan, a British-born American author, editor, and blogger. Sullivan is a political commentator, a former editor of The New Republic, and the author or editor of six books.