Feature

Photo taken on April 23, 2017 by Raj Sirohi.

This Land We Love

5/31/2017

A Message from Citizens Meeting in Waynesville, Ohio

“We say unanimously that real people are more complicated and appealing than the stereotypes we have of them.”

We are 15 residents of southwest Ohio. Most of us live in the Greater Cincinnati region, in Warren and Hamilton counties, and one of lives near Dayton. Politically, seven of us are “red” Americans (conservative in our philosophy, typically voting for Republican over Democratic candidates, and supportive of President Donald Trump and his Administration) while eight of us are “blue” Americans (liberal in our philosophy, typically voting for Democratic over Republican candidates, and critical of President Trump and his Administration).

We met for a total of 13 hours over the weekend of April 21-23, 2017, at Richard and Donna Lynch’s ranch on Township Line Road in Waynesville, Ohio, in an attempt to gain a better understanding of how the “other side” thinks, clarify areas of disagreement and agreement, and see if we could learn anything that might be helpful to us and to the nation.

We believe that we achieved these goals. On some issues, such as whether prior experience in politics is a positive or negative qualification for high office at this moment in our history, we could do no more than simply agree to disagree. On other issues, such as paid parental leave, we found considerable common ground.

We found that we are less different from one another, and less hostile to one another, than the pundits in the media typically say we are. A number of us on both sides began our meeting believing that the other side could not be dealt with on the basis of rational thought. We say unanimously that our experience of talking with, rather than at or about, each other caused us to abandon that belief. We say unanimously that real people are more complicated and appealing than the stereotypes we have of them.

For example, often during our meeting, we found that those on the other side were willing to admit some of their own side’s shortcomings and weaknesses. We were surprised by this fact — and grateful for it.

In this meeting, we did not change our views on issues. But we did change our views of each other. And surely, in this time of extreme public rancor and mistrust, this change is a good thing for us and for the land we all love.

In light of this experience, and looking to the future, we the undersigned make the following commitments.

Our individual (“What can I do on my own?”) commitments include:

  1. Get to know a house of worship different from my own. For example, if I’m a Christian, visit a mosque with a Muslim; if I’m a Muslim, visit a church with a Christian.
  2. Develop a more positive attitude in relating to others.
  3. Engage with — don’t distance myself from — people with views opposed to mine.
  4. When interacting with someone with whom I disagree, remember to ask myself, “What is this person saying that’s good?”
  5. When considering the arguments of those with whom I disagree, try to be less suspicious of their motives.
  6. Don’t enter into political discussions with the main goal of converting the other person to my point of view.
  7. Let the other person have his or her say first.
  8. Really listen to my opponents, without so being so eager to formulate my “But!” (i.e., my reply).
  9. Don’t stereotype myself or others.
  10. Try to see the “we” more than the “us versus them.”
  11. Call out people on my own side when they say outrageous things.
  12. When someone says something which I find totally wrong or absurdly misguided, try to respond by paraphrasing (“I hear you saying that …”) in order to draw the person out and learn more before I respond.
  13. Try to understand what’s most important to the other person. What’s his or her deepest value or concern?
  14. Practice empathy. Try to understand the other person’s journey.
  15. Remember that I probably have more in common with my political opponents that I realize or suspect.
  16. Try to block out false or exaggerated media stories.

Our proposed group (“What can ‘my side’ do?) commitments include:

  1. Try to understand more accurately the different factions within our own side.
  2. Approach the leaders of “our side” (e.g. Tea Party leaders or Democratic Party leaders) with the ideas we’ve discussed in this gathering.
  3. Organize opportunities for people on “our side” to visit and try to get to know communities that are politically different from our own.
  4. Hold the politicians on “our side” accountable for promoting unfair stereotypes and for extreme or hyper-partisan statements.

Our proposed community-wide (“What can we all do together?”) commitments include:

  1. Come together to work on issues that are important to both sides but that currently (perhaps due to polarization) are not being addressed.
  2. Form “red and blue” task forces to write jointly to newspapers and other publications.
  3. Form “blue and red” delegations to visit members of Congress on matters of shared concern.
  4. Develop slogans and bumper stickers for the idea of “we” instead of “us versus them.”
  5. Consider starting a third party.
  6. Organize more gatherings similar to this one.
  7. Organize gatherings similar to this one for high school students.
  8. Organize book discussions bringing together people with differing political views.
  9. Organize small-group meet-ups bringing together people with differing political views.
  10. Approach national organizations with the idea of sponsoring gatherings such as this one across the country.
  11. Organize an on-going initiative in this community to build on what we’ve done in this gathering.

In support of these statements and commitments, and with an eye toward continuing our work together, we mutually pledge to each other, and to our nation, our best talents and our best selves.

Participants:

Angela Brown
Layman Cobb
Andrew Fischer
Keith Johnson
Jean McVey
Andie Moon
Kouhyar Mostashfi
Tonya Nickol
Mike Norman
Tyler Pickett
Greg Smith
Julie Sparks
Joe Vasquenz
Jorge Vila
Kim Watson

Organizer:

David Lapp

Moderators:

David Blankenhorn
William Doherty

Guest:

Peter Yarrow

About this Report

This report comes from Better Angels, a bipartisan network of scholars and leaders whose vision is “One America.” Our goals are to bring people together from across the divides to rethink currently polarized issues, show why reducing polarization is an important priority, and recommend public policy and institutional reforms that will permit progress and compromise to be substituted for impasse and frustration.

About Better Angels

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory…will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln, 1861

The idea of recognizing something that is shared with the other—even in moments of fierce conflict—is beautifully reflected in Abraham Lincoln’s use of the term “better angels” in his First Inaugural Address in 1861, on the eve of the Civil War. William Seward, who would serve as Secretary of State under Lincoln, had suggested that Lincoln close his speech by calling in hope upon the “the guardian angel of the nation.” Lincoln changed it to “the better angels of our nature.” In Seward’s version, what was needed would come from outside us. In Lincoln’s version, it would come from within us, something “better” in the “nature” of both Northerners and Southerners.

In America today we haven’t reached the point of violence and chaos—yet. But surely in our increasingly and dangerously fractured nation—liberals and conservatives detesting one another, the upscale minority increasingly isolated from the majority, and the ruled holding the rulers in growing contempt—we all need to be touched by something “better” within us and within the institutions that we build together.

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