It’s that time of year: the air is getting colder, the leaves are beginning to change color, and, all across the country, Americans are sitting at home anticipating the upcoming election…and the possibility that violence will follow.
Statistically speaking, over half of you know what I’m talking about. I just finished reading an article in USA Today that cites two polls I found alarming, though not entirely surprising. The first poll by YouGov found that 56% of voters expect to see “an increase in violence as a result of the election.” And another poll by Engagious found that 61% of Americans somewhat (21%) or strongly (40%!) agree with the statement, “I’m concerned that the U.S. could be on the verge of another Civil War.” No matter what the election outcome is, a majority of people are worried about what will happen next. But these statistics also make a strong case that doing your civic duty goes far beyond the voting booth.
Avoiding civil war begins with civil conversation. You don’t have to wait to cast your vote in this election to help the country get to a better place right now. If we fear the violent consequences of polarization, we need to do more than talk about how we need more productive discourse. We must actually engage in it ourselves.
Civil discourse is an antidote to polarization because it requires us to treat our ideological opposites not as the enemy or as the other, but as people we seek to understand.
Civil discourse demands more than just being nicer to each other (though I wouldn’t say no to a kinder America, either). It requires us to show curiosity and respect to those who disagree with us. By seeking a real understanding of those who see the world in a deeply different way than we do, we may not find agreement, but we can find ways to live peaceably together, despite our differences.
Ok, but how?
Easier said than done, you say. True, if it were easy, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
I’ve certainly struggled a fair bit to engage respectfully with people who don’t share my views, so for our next episode of the Civil Squared Podcast, we consulted an expert on the topic. We sat down with Dr. Tania Israel, a professor of psychology at UC Santa Barbara, to talk about her book Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work.
Dr. Israel has really clear and actionable ways to reach out across the political divide and have respectful conversations, and I’ve been able to use these tips myself. She talks a lot about how dialogue changes us, not necessarily our values and ideas but our perceptions of others and our posture towards them. And that is precisely what we need in these divisive and challenging times.
Our 5 links this week offer a tangible opportunity to have these kinds of conversations from our friends at Braver Angels, as well as some background on the problems we might face after November 3rd. I encourage you to listen to the conversation with Tania Israel and go out and take responsibility for the state of the country and our communities by engaging in civil discourse.
5 links worth your time
- ‘The country’s lost its mind’: Polls warning of civil war, violence shows deep partisan chasm over elections, USA Today – We have a real trust problem in our country right now. If these polls are right, we don’t trust our elections to be fair and accurate or our fellow citizens to react reasonably to the results of those elections.
- YouGov Poll on Electoral Fairness and Political Violence, YouGov – This poll, commissioned by Braver Angels, asked if people think elections will be fair and honest, if Americans will ultimately agree with the outcome, and if people thought there will be an increase in violence after the election. Take a look at the data and think about what you can do to help move the discourse in a better direction.
- New Poll Shows Majority of Americans Worried About Another U.S. Civil War, Engagious – Not only are people worried about political conflict, but apparently, they’re also stockpiling goods and preparing for the worst in other ways.
- Braver Angels 1:1 Red/Blue Conversations, Braver Angels – Take a step towards civil conversation right now! This project pairs one conservative/libertarian with one liberal/progressive for two structured, one-hour online conversations via a new, AllSidesConnect platform. The framework emphasizes storytelling, listening and learning rather than declaring and debating. As one conservative participant said, these conversations enable us “to be more curious and less furious and to look beyond stereotypes.” Read the conversation guides and sign up to participate!
- Habits of a Free Mind, Civil Squared Podcast – For more advice on how to think about difficult conversations, listen in on Jennifer’s chat with Dr. Pamela Paresky about the habits of a free mind that lay the framework for civil discourse.
Photo by Moab Republic on Adobe Stock