by David Lambert
It was just a few minutes into the recent WWFOR sponsored Braver Angels workshop held virtually this past July, that I realized I had not been chosen as a participant in work/sharing groups. Instead, observing this workshop proved to be an enlightening and rewarding experience for me. I had earlier this year participated in another three-hour Braver Angels workshop with the identical title: Depolarizing Within. This previous experience with the workshop content assisted me in my observer role; a role I perceive the Braver Angels staff wanted me to be in.
Following my short welcome, Dee Edelman, the principal Braver Angel Moderator, mentioned that this workshop was geared to help members and supporters of WWFOR and other like-minded individuals to communicate openly and honestly, even critically, and if needed, to share respectively among ourselves, about people of quite different political perspectives, without labeling and demeaning them. It was additionally aimed to search within ourselves and find parts of ourselves we might not want to look at and acknowledge, including our own biases. While these goals were challenging and meant to help us “stretch” mentally, emotionally, and socially, and involved some risk on participants’ part, the Braver Angels staff, in my view, was highly affirming, supporting, encouraging, and validating toward all participants throughout the workshop.
Some of the many strategies or tools to help us deal with our own “inner polarizer’ included:
1. “Keep my heart open.”
2, “We are affected by the culture we grow up in.”
3. We can reframe the other person’s thoughts/feelings: Example: “Now I have more information about them I didn’t know about and can keep that in mind.”
4, Learn about the other person’s values. The focus on values is important.
5. The “other side” is more varied than a stereotype would suggest.
6. The “other side” is more complicated.
7. The “other side” has different life experiences than I have.
8. Focus on developing a relationship with the person.
9. Read about leaders of the “other side” and what they have to say. If you are liberal or progressive, read what conservative leaders have to say, and vice versa.
10. Research the history of the other side.
11. Distinguish between Positions and People; Policies and Values; Inconsistency and Hypocrisy.
12, Avoid pejorative labels, avoid criticizing others’ motives instead of their ideas.
13. Criticize your own side also.
14. Note the positive in the others’ comments and ideas.
15. If you consider yourself progressive, get in touch with your conservative side, and vice versa.
16. The LAPP formula for listening and effectively communicating: L-Listen; A-Acknowledge; P-Pivot-ask the person if they are open to hearing your perspective; P-Perspective-share your perspective if they are open to listening.
Following the workshop, the Braver Angels staff debriefed and shared openly in a positive light, their appreciation for the questions and comments made by workshop participants. Again, I was able to experience their inclusiveness and respect for each other and the workshop participants. I came away from this experience grateful to all participants, the Braver Angels Staff, and our workshop planning group for what felt like a highly positive and important learning experience.