To the Editor,
The country is splitting at the seams. National debates are shouting matches, and more and more of us deplore the stupidity or evil intentions of those on the other side of the aisle. It’s enough to make one want to give up and give into the growing cynicism.
That would be a mistake, of course. But in a climate where citizens feel increasingly powerless, what is there to do?
We believe the answer lies in regaining our humanity, starting with recognizing that “the other” is not an ogre or a cardboard cutout of a clown, but a complex human being, with the same inherent worth as ourselves. If we enter into respectful conversations with that in mind, we might even discover that “the other” shares many of the values we hold dear.
We must have faith that in a functioning democracy our leaders—our public servants—will be responsive to our most important common values and aspire to lead and serve in that direction. We believe that one of those values is civility.
Our country needs a massive grassroots movement of civility among its citizens. Politicians need to see the importance we place on that value; only then can we hold them to that account.
We have recently teamed up with two other Long Islanders concerned about the increasing polarization among citizens to form the Long Island Alliance of Braver Angels. Braver Angels was founded in December 2016 as “Better Angels” (from Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address), and it has grown into a nationwide grassroots movement seeking to strengthen our democracy by depolarizing America. Too big a task? We don’t think so. But we are not naïve about the challenge. We believe that Braver Angels, which has grown significantly, has the approach and the tools needed to succeed. Readers can learn more about the Braver Angels mission and find all kinds of resources at www.braverangels.org.
We recently ran a two-session post-election program, designed by Braver Angels, called “With Malice Toward None,” which brought together Trump supporters and Biden supporters in substantive and respectful dialogue. There were 16 Long Island participants, eight from each side. The goal, which all participants felt was reached, was to share perspectives in a safe space—and seriously consider the perspectives of the individuals we were conversing with. It felt good—and significant—to exercise a degree of humility, patience, and respect.
Braver Angels is forging a new way for us all. We invite your readers to help us plan other programs for Long Islanders who are among the 70% of Americans who are seriously concerned about the rising polarization threatening our democracy. Anybody who wishes to join us can email [email protected]