How and with whom do you disagree?

Road trips and miles of conversation, searching for common ground, and 5 links worth your time

I am definitely a road trip kind of person. I love the uninterrupted time with friends or family, and it’s always cool to see so many different parts of this big and amazing country.

Choose your own ending

Last fall, I was listening to The Braver Angels podcast when an episode began with this question: What happens when a liberal and a conservative decide to jump in an old Volvo and drive across the country?

What do you think happened? The answer to that question might offer some insight into the nature of your relationships with people who disagree with you.

Do you think the entire road trip was one argument after another? Do you think there was a lot of arguing, but, because of that, their trip was enjoyable or miserable? Do you think there were long stretches of silence that were hard to overcome? Do you think, by the end of their travels together, these two people settled their differences and agreed on everything?

Two friends, an old Volvo, and miles and miles of conversation

I hate spoilers almost as much as I love road trips, so I’m not going to give away the ending, but you can hear my conversation with Jordan Blashek, one of the travelers, on our current episode of the Civil Squared Podcast. He and his friend, Christopher Haugh, were the conservative and the liberal, and they documented several road trips in their new book, Union: A Democrat, A Republican, and A Search for Common Ground.

Jordan and Chris road-tripped extensively between 2016 and 2019, and, in a recent op-ed, they reported that they found Americans to be “more empathetic and less dogmatic” than what we have come to expect from the media. That’s an encouraging observation, but it’s a tough one to reconcile with some of the data. A recent poll found that not only are most of us reluctant to share our political views, but a significant number of us also think business executives who don’t share our political views should be fired for personal donations to opposing candidates.

What is common ground?

Does common ground mean standing side-by-side and holding hands in solidarity? Lauren Victor’s common ground doesn’t exactly look like that. Her name might not be familiar to you, but I bet you know who she is because you’ve seen the video of her sitting in front of a restaurant with a crowd of protesters yelling at her to raise her fist in support of Black Lives Matter. She didn’t, but not because she and the protesters didn’t share common ground.

In our five links this week, you’ll find a variety of opinions on what it means to find common ground and how we go about doing that. I hope you’ll discuss these with your family and friends, especially if you have political disagreements. The next few months are unlikely to be characterized by people holding hands and smiling, but maybe we can still find a way to share this trip together and appreciate each other’s company.

5 links worth your time

  1. Americans appear to be deeply divided. But we found a different story traveling the U.S., USA Today – During their travels, Jordan and Chris “saw firsthand how Americans are more empathetic and less dogmatic than many are inclined to believe.” They believe a “more unified future” is possible if we start having more productive conversations with one another.

  2. Poll: 62% of Americans Say They Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share, Cato Institute – Despite what Jordan and Chris found on the road, a recent poll suggests that most of us are self-censoring our political views because we’re worried about offending other people. According to the poll, that might be prudent for some professionals because a “significant share” of Americans (of both political parties) would support firing business executives who had personally donated to a political candidate.

  3. I was the woman surrounded by BLM protesters at a D.C. restaurant. Here’s why I didn’t raise my fist, Washington Post – Lauren Victor, whose Monday night dinner plans took an unexpected turn when she was confronted by a group of protesters demanding that she raise her fist, recounts her experience (which was captured on video and has now been viewed more than 12 million times) and what she took away from it. You might be surprised to hear what she has to say.

  4. Bridging America’s divides requires a willingness to work together without becoming friends first, The Conversation – Although Chris and Jordan’s friendship gave them a strong incentive to find common ground, Francesca Polletta, professor of sociology at the University of California (Irvine) argues that democracy “requires something more demanding: a willingness to tolerate, and even cooperate with, people with whom we share a purpose, but not much else.”

  5. Habits of a Free Mind, Civil Squared Podcast – Psychologist and author Pamela Paresky talks about managing difficult conversations with others and developing the kinds of habits that enable us to disagree productively.

Photo by Aldric RIVAT on Unsplash