Lately I’ve been yearning for reasons to feel hopeful. Our country feels more polarized than ever and, regardless of political affiliation, people seem less interested in listening, more self-righteous, and quicker to dismiss and label the “other” as the “enemy” or “idiot”. I’ve seen this dynamic spill over into families and even the workplace.

So, I went looking for reasons to feel optimistic. I sought to identify people and organizations that are putting courageous listening into practice. I wanted to find efforts aimed at teaching and engaging people in skillful conversations across political, racial, and social divides.

I asked friends and colleagues for input, and found more than hope. I found inspiration in the many creative efforts happening around the country and discovered a variety of projects that successfully mediate conversations and connections between people who saw each other as adversaries. Through these resources, people learn to be genuinely curious about each other’s views and to care about each other’s well-being.

Here are three of these inspiring projects…

Living Room Conversations: The mission of Living Room Conversations (LRC) is “working to heal society by connecting people across divides – politics, age, gender, race, nationality, and more – through guided conversations proven to build understanding and transform communities”.
LRC offers a Host Certification Program, a Host Toolkit, and even a Friends and Family Tip Sheet!

Braver Angels: The mission of Braver Angels is “bringing Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic”. They seek to heal the wounds between left and right by helping people build connections and strengthen community. Their red-blue workshops bring together small, evenly divided groups of conservatives and liberals for a series of exercises designed to help participants clarify disagreements, reduce stereotyped thinking, and discover common values.

Greater Good Science Center’s Bridging Differences Online Course: The mission of the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC), which is based at UC Berkeley, is to “study the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being and teach skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society”. The Bridging Differences Online Course is a free massive open online course (MOOC) which offers research-based insights and skills training on dialogue and strategies for building mutual understanding.

Conflict escalation, toxic niceness, chronic avoidance, and over-advocacy of difficult topics fail to address the root problems and, over time, weaken relationships. So, we need new ways to combat polarization and learn (or re-learn) how to sit across from people who hold different world views than we do.

In the comments below, please share any initiatives and/or resources you’ve found to help navigate an increasingly polarized world.

Image Credit: Faris Mohammed on Unsplash

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