Finding our better angels in divided times

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Jeff Newcomer Miller, Duane Beck and Russell Johnson, Mennonite World Review

Who hasn’t known relationships torn apart over divisive politics? Churches, families and businesses all know the tension that can accompany political discussions, especially in recent years. Is it possible to bring together Republicans and Democrats to listen to each other and break down divisive stereotypes? Is it possible to clearly disagree without dismissing the other as stupid, uninformed, callous or even evil? Better Angels, a national nonprofit organization formed in 2016, is doing just that.

The name of the organization is a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address in which he called for Americans to invoke the “better angels” of our nature to overcome partisan rivalry. With that goal in mind, the leaders of Better Angels designed workshops for constructive political dialogues that don’t devolve into name-calling and bitter arguments. Some of the principles behind these workshops come from family therapy, and many of the techniques applied are familiar to those who practice conflict resolution. The results of these workshops have been downright astounding: reds and blues embracing each other as friends and comrades despite enormous differences in their political opinions. In these workshops — hundreds of which have happened across the country — folks who hold extraordinarily different positions are able to hold civil conversations over topics such as gun rights, gay marriage and immigration reform.

At Eastern Mennonite University this past June, 150 delegates attended the founding convention of Better Angels. Half were conservative “red” delegates and half were liberal “blue” delegates. The purpose of the convention was to talk about how to depolarize American politics and promote healthier disagreements. There were debates and tensions, but a common passion that there has to be a better way to be “We the people.”

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