“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, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, 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
By Traci DeVette Griggs
I’m a Red. That means I lean Republican. Because I work for a conservative think tank, some might describe me as a “far right.”
On some issues, I guess that’d be accurate. I have some new friends and they are solidly Blue, or Democrat-leaning. One in particular has been arrested several times while protesting the North Carolina legislature during “Moral Mondays.”
Once a month, I’m one of a group of Reds and Blues who sits down at a table and talks about dangerous topics. I say they’re dangerous because we talk about things that most people would think would definitely end in a fight. You know that old saying, “Never talk about religion or politics?” Well, we talk about both—including racism, abortion, income inequity and Donald Trump. We never raise our voices and only once over the past year has someone stormed out.
We are part of a national movement determined to take control of our country’s narrative or, in short, depolarize America. Agreement is not the goal. Listening and understanding the other’s perspective is.
This organization is called Better Angels (named after a phrase in one of Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural speeches) but it’s one of many groups popping up all over the country. These gatherings are populated by people who are bored with the hate speech and mud-slinging that passes for intelligent and nuanced conversation these days.
Better Angels began just after the 2016 general election by a former Red who turned Blue-ish. He and several friends from both sides of the aisle, held the first Red-Blue workshop in South Lebanon, Ohio, with 10 Trump supporters and 11 Hillary Clinton supporters. They were amazed that they could respectfully disagree and that they actually liked each other. They wanted to keep meeting and talking, and the first Better Angels monthly Alliance was formed.
Those of us who are part of the Raleigh Better Angels Alliance have had similar experiences.
At the end of every meeting, I’m usually amazed. I have learned something new and seen a heart-felt issue in a different way. I feel like I’ve been heard and have heard the other side.
Despite some major ideological differences, we find that we actually have a lot in common. Several times we’ve laughed with each other and asked: Who are all of these crazy ideologues who dominate the sound bites in the news and in social media?
We have speculated that these extremes are lobbing inflammatory speech back and forth over the heads of the majority of us, who all have to sit and tolerate the noise and destruction. They make us believe that people on the other side are all stupid and evil. While we agree there are stupid and evil people in the world, they are not the majority of the other side as we are being led to believe.
It’s time for us to open our eyes and see that there are those who benefit from antagonizing us and stoking the fires of controversy—and I’m not talking about a foreign invader. I’m talking about the quest for ratings, fund-raising, “likes” and “shares.” It’s time we take back the narrative one community at a time and dictate a different kind of discussion–one that pulls us together as Americans and resists the forces that want to drive us apart.
But a little training and some ground rules might be in order. And that’s where Better Angels comes in.
That first workshop is led by trained moderators who outline the rules and lead structured activities. You learn how to ask questions that seek understanding and that are not “gotcha” questions.
There are civil and enlightening discussions but always with spontaneous laughter. I think the laughter comes from a sense of relief. Relief that perhaps the difference between Reds and Blues is not as black and white as we’ve all been led to believe.
Traci Griggs of Raleigh is an Ocracoke homeowner and a part-time islander.