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Opinion: The simple fix to our polarization: Befriend someone you disagree with

By May 23, 2021June 3rd, 2021No Comments

Opinion by Gary Abernathy// Washington Post

I hear often from people on the left who swear they don’t personally know anyone who supported Donald Trump for president. As a result, they cannot fathom such support, let alone comprehend a world in which Trump could win the White House. Similarly, many on the right are so insulated from people who think differently that they were convinced Trump could not possibly lose the 2020 election. Everyone they associate with was voting for Trump, so if he lost, well, the election must have been stolen.

When substantial numbers of citizens on the extreme ends of our political spectrum dismiss any successes enjoyed by their adversaries as evidence of wrongdoing, our polarization moves from the realm of merely regrettable to physically calamitous, as we have seen through various events over the past year or so, but especially on Jan. 6 in Washington.

While everyone acknowledges our division and the social and cultural isolation at its core, doing something about it takes effort. Be of good cheer. There are those dedicated to doing just that, including organizations such as Business for AmericaCrossing Party Linesthe National Institute for Civil DiscourseFixUSListen First Project and Unify America, to name a few. They and others are joining forces for an innovative project the weekend of June 12-13 called America Talks, which should be interesting.

Kicking off a National Week of Conversation, the goal of America Talks is to engage at least 10,000 “conversation participants” through the magic of video conferencing in one-on-one, face-to-face dialogues based on political differences. “Each conversation will provide a repairing stitch to America’s frayed social fabric, as participants shift perspective from ‘us and them’ to ‘you and me,’ ” according to the program description. Signups are happening now.

Yes, it’s a lofty undertaking, and a ripe target for cynics and naysayers. It’s not designed for the denizens of most digital message boards, where snark and insolence flourish, abated by anonymity. It’s for people who yearn to expand their universe, better understand each other and perhaps even make new friends through productive and respectful conversation.

There are always groups affiliated with “bipartisan” outreach efforts that give pause to people considering participation. This group is too far left, or this one leans too far right. But allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good is how we remain stagnant.

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