In July, 2021, I attended FreedomFest for perhaps the 5th time, but my first time as speaker. As I wandered the FreedomFest exhibit hall floor, I found the Braver Angels booth. Remembering the famous Lincoln quote about “the better angels of our nature,” I was intrigued. They explained their mission: “to bring Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic.” They encouraged me to take the first step and sign up online at their site https://braverangels.org/. I did and, because of what I’ve seen and experienced since then, that stop ended up being the most impactful one in 2021.
Modern politics have created conflict everywhere, even in long-standing relationships. One of my friends confided in me that she was abruptly “unfriended” because she voted for Trump. I lost contact with my sister for a while; she “wanted” to discuss politics, but wasn’t really open to an exchange of ideas. In California, I, a small-l libertarian, felt silenced by many people. And yet, I’m passionate about politics and really enjoy hearing other people’s views, as long as they are equally open to hearing mine.
My first step with Braver Angels was to register for a two-part, one-on-one conversation with someone with whom I generally might disagree on various issues. I found the conversations were carefully constructed with questions for each of us to answer and time to look at where we found agreement. As each interaction was time-limited, no one could overwhelm the conversation. The rules made it feel safe to share your ideas and, of course, both parties in the conversation had volunteered to engage in active dialogue. To my surprise, my first partner had much in common with me, except our politics. But what was even more amazing was how much we agreed on goals; we mostly differed on how to achieve them. The experience left me feeling respected and heard, but also informed me of the “why” behind a lot of his views and helped us see the humanity in each other.
The Braver Angels approach transforms a debate into an investigation. Instead of focusing on winning, you learn to lead with curiosity. The questions helped me to stop planning my response and simply listen. Instead of challenging your partner, you are asked to respond with questions. In most cases now, even though Braver Angels is non-partisan and isn’t trying to change anyone’s views or values, I’ve found that my curiosity and willingness to go deeper with them result in both of us having a wider perspective and even at times altering some of our views. The experiences I had in my one-on-one chats as well as delving deeper into the methodology really helped me converse more easily with my sister. Now, we often bring up political subjects with each other and have fruitful discussions.
These brief experiences convinced me that this was a powerful way forward, in part because I felt a desperate need to change the conversation and how we treat each other as fellow Americans. This is a common result of the workshops; 8 in 10 participants learning new skills find they are now more comfortable starting constructive conversations with the other side. There are so many workshops and other offerings, all of them free, which can help you: learn how to help you speak about politics across differences with your family members, friends, colleagues and others in a constructive and empathetic manner, depolarize your social media posts to invite deeper conversations, look within yourself to see how you can eliminate your own negative talk to keep the conversations flowing, and so much more.
Ultimately, the common ground people find when talking across differences can serve as a foundation for reaching a common understanding of what our problems are, and the nature and causes of them, which can in turn enable us to develop effective, consensus solutions.
Thanks to Braver Angels, I now find that I don’t have to dodge political conversations at parties and family gatherings. I simply put myself into the “Braver Angels mindset;” stay curious and look for the common ground we all have. When you give people the respect of your active listening, coupled with a sincere effort to understand them, you’ll find they are in turn more open to hearing and considering what you have to say. It also has a powerful effect when you find yourself “triggered.”
The more I learned about Braver Angels and engaged with the members, the more I started to suspect that our country is not as divided as politicians make it out to be. In fact, except for the usual outliers who will defend any opinion to its death, most people have been told to be suspicious of those with different opinions by the media and our politicians. The media needs a gripping story and amplifying our differences sells papers. They’re in trouble financially and need a way to stay relevant. Politicians think they are more likely to earn votes when they talk about division and seek to create more of it. Let’s demonstrate that we want something different.
As a writer and public speaker I found a home as an Ambassador in Braver Angels. The group provides great training, so you can carry on the message of depolarization and how to get there. There are a lot of opportunities to engage with in this organization. Start with learning about the organization at What We Do – Braver Angels. The site is packed with information and offers something for everyone, even if your only goal is to make family holiday celebrations more enjoyable. Subscribe to our newsletter – or become a member for only $12 per year. Check out great recorded speeches to learn more. BA also has other kinds of resources – here are a several of them:
- 1:1 Conversations
- Braver Angels Debates
- Red/Blue Workshops
- Skills for Bridging the Divide
- Depolarizing Within
- Families and Politics
- Alliances (our term for local chapters, since each is co-run by a Red and a Blue)
Braver Angels has recently expanded to reach beyond everyday citizens to elected officials, candidates and staffers. This exciting, new initiative is called Braver Politics and it seeks to teach skills to find common ground and practice healthy disagreement in order to rise above the fighting,actually work together across differences to find actionable solutions to citizens’ problems, and to bring about better communication with constituents.
If you’re at FreedomFest, come to the Braver Angels booth and chat with members. If you can’t make it, or know others who would benefit, send them the link to the website, so they too can begin a life-changing journey.
Booth Number: T2 (tables along the Main Entrance wall)
Denise will be speaking at FreedomFest on July 13, 3:00PM, on “Interviewing Skills: Now, More Than Ever.”