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Trying to bridge the political chasm with polite discourse

Trying to bridge the political chasm with polite discourse

Earlier this year we wrote about an organization in the United States that is making a small impact on the corrosive culture of political polarization. Maybe a similar approach could be applied here in Canada—and Hamilton.

Braver Angels, as the organization is named, found its roots in December 2016. America had suffered one of the most divisive elections in its history—the election of Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton. In this climate of polarization, co-founders David Blankenhorn, Bill Doherty, and David Lapp came together with an idea for an unlikely gathering.

They assembled 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters in South Lebanon, Ohio. This would become the first Red/Blue Workshop. The goal was simple– to see if Americans could still disagree respectfully – and just maybe, find common ground. Some thought it wasn’t likely

According to the Braver Angels website the first workshop was a success, “We proved our skeptics wrong. “Republican and Democrat, native born and immigrant: these Americans liked each other. But first they had to hear one another’s stories. Black and white, Christian and Muslim: these Americans could appreciate each others opinions. But first they needed to see where these opinions came from. They could listen to each others points of view once they saw one another, not as stereotypes, but as neighbors in a country they shared. “

From that beginning, Braver Angels has have put on nearly 1,600 Red/Blue Workshops and 275 structured debates in all 50 states. This month they initiate a new project, Braver Politics, that will attempt to lower the temperature in school boards, state legislatures and even the U.S. Congress.

A Braver Angels workshop in Texas

Recently Braver Angels released its guidelines on how respectful discourse is maintained in its red-blue workshops.

Braver Angels Guidelines on Tolerance  

Braver Angels leaders are sometimes asked about our approach to holding events where participants make public assertions that may be unsupported by facts or harmful to others.

 Such questions include: 

• Would Braver Angels debate (something horrible)?  Are some topics off limits?   

• Should we tolerate or invite those who make false statements or advance conspiracy theories?      

• Should we tolerate or invite those who say things that deeply offend individuals and groups?         These are important questions. In our workshops, debates, podcasts, forums, meetings, and other activities, we seek to choose topics and tolerate and invite participant viewpoints based on five basic standards.   

1. Does creating space for discussing this issue advance our mission?   We’re trying to heal the country, recognizing its challenging divisions. We choose issues and select approaches that we believe can advance our mission of “bringing Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic.”   

2. Does the issue divide the country?  We aren’t interested in sensationalism, marginal influences, or controversy for its own sake. We focus on important issues that fundamentally divide us.  

3. Will we discuss the issue in terms of our values?  Our model isn’t designed to settle disputes over facts. It’s designed to clarify differences and seek common ground on what we value as citizens and on priorities for the future.     

4. Will we present diverse and opposing perspectives on the issue?    Favoring particular viewpoints over others or excluding arguably harmful viewpoints contradicts our mission. Bringing together on equal terms those who disagree is fundamental to who we are.  

 5. Will participants follow our rules of procedure?    Our events aren’t free-for-alls. Our ground rules require civility toward others and the willingness to listen as well as speak.  Within that framework, participants can speak their minds freely and without fear. 

A recent PBS story noted. “despite its limitations, the civility model of listening and talking across differences has caught fire. A project called the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University tracks and tries to mitigate political violence in the United States. Its website features a map covered with hundreds of green dots that represent do-good organizations such as American Public Square, Living Room Conversations and the Listen First Project that promote respectful discourse.”

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