December 08, 2022

Workshop seeks to ‘bridge the divide’

In a nation often at odds when it comes to talking politics, the group Braver Angels seeks to help cross partisan divides. By providing a variety of workshops, participants on all points of the political spectrum can learn ways on how to talk and listen to one another in a constructive, respectful manner.

History

Braver Angels, at the time called Better Angels inspired by an Abraham Lincoln quote, started in Lebanon, Ohio, in December 2016.

Co-founders David Blankenhorn, Bill Doherty and David Lapp found 11 Donald Trump supporters and 10 Hillary Clinton supporters and brought them together to see if they could respectfully disagree, and possibly find some common ground.

That first Red/Blue Workshop was a success, and over the years the movement has grown.

Today, Braver Angels has organizations across all 50 states with at least one Braver Angels alliance per state. Iowa has three registered alliances - Ames Braver Angel Alliance, Braver Angels, The Cantile, and University of Iowa Braver Angels. In addition to workshops, Braver Angels also offer other events such as debates, forums, and one-on-one conversations.

Local workshop

Brought to Osceola by the United Methodist Church Women in Faith, a Braver Angels ‘Communication Skills for Bridging the Political Divide’ workshop at Revelton Distillery on Sept. 17.

According to the Braver Angels’ website, this particular workshop is designed to help attendees “through difficult political conversations with people in your life. Learn how to talk across the divide in a constructive, empathetic way.”

Led by Stacey Kimberlin with the Ames Braver Angels Alliance, attendees spent the morning learning tips and practicing new skills in tone setting, listening, and speaking.

“We don’t influence people by talking; we influence people by listening, building that relationship,” said Kimberlin before having those in attendance pair up with a like-minded political partner to first work on listening.

Kimberlin’s tips to participants for listening included paraphrasing to show you heard what the person said without editorializing their words, asking questions to understand the other’s views, and acknowledge those views even when you don’t agree.

Attendees took turns having a mutual conversation, followed by one in which each took a different side to act out supplied talking points as each party. The goal of the ‘acting’ was to practice hearing what the other person was saying, even if they didn’t agree.

After the practice rounds of listening, attendees worked on speaking skills in a similar format to listening - taking turns to act out each side of the conversation.

Kimberlin’s tips for speaking were ones such as using ‘I’ statements, pausing to acknowledge what the other person had said, and identifying your life experiences that might form your view on a particular topic.

“This is relationship building, this is community building,” said Kimberlin.

Thoughts

At the end of each round, participants were given a chance to share their thoughts on what went well, and what didn’t, with their partners.

For several, having to put themselves in a different political mindset was both a challenge and a positive. Remembering to actually Many said that good conversations were sparked out of even talking as the same party (both as Democrats or both as Republicans) as did when the opposite was the case.

On the other hand, for many it was noted as being ‘uncomfortable’ when having to act out conversations where they said things they might not necessarily agree or align with, and trying to get into the mindset of someone who did. For a few attendees, they said in doing this, it just further solidified their own beliefs in whatever topic was being discussed, that could almost take them out of the conversation at hand.

After everyone had a chance to share their views, Kimberlin offered additional tips for conversations that might be difficult to navigate: stay on topic, not answer baiting questions or reply with provocative statements, agree to disagree, and exit the conversation in a low key way if needed.

Final thoughts of the workshop from participants were that they learned, or were reminded, to be better listeners, and some were ready to try the conversation out on family and friends who they differ politically from.

Future workshops

Future workshops may be held if there is public interest. For more information on the workshops and forums available or to find an alliance near you, visit https://braverangels.org.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.