Seeing is Believing

By STEVE SPHAR

I wanted to believe it was true, so I went to see it for myself.

In July, I flew from Sacramento, California, to northern Virginia at my own expense to participate in the One America Bus Tour. I observed two of the Red/Blue gatherings facilitated by Better Angels. What I saw gave me hope.

The Better Angels gathering in McLean, VA

Like many, I have become increasingly worried about the growing political divide in our country and the acrimony of our national conversation. This extreme divisiveness is both unproductive and unnecessary.

It is unproductive because it distracts us from the many looming, complex problems that we must solve in the very near future. And it is unnecessary because at our core, we Americans are fair, decent, open-minded people who can respect differences of opinion and still work together to get things done.

Better Angels is a bipartisan network of leaders and organizations who are working hard to reunite America. They host conversations between common citizens, equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, for the purpose of understanding each others ideas and finding areas of common ground.

When I first heard about these Better Angels gatherings, it sounded too good to be true. When I saw it in action, I became a believer. The gatherings follow a tightly moderated structure that sets the table for a respectful and fruitful conversation. I saw people with deeply opposing political views talking together without rancor and bickering.

At the beginning of the gatherings, both sides voiced concerns about being viewed negatively by the other. By the end, they expressed their gratitude for the chance to participate in an experience that was difficult at times but ultimately uplifting. They also agreed to form a local structure so they could continue to meet and talk with each other. That was impressive.

Our current fever of extreme divisiveness is causing real harm. Our civic fabric is rupturing and we must take action to mend the threads before they break. We need to end the idea that the other side is evil, ignorant, or duped by the media. And the first step is to enter into civil conversations with each other.

That is why I am working to bring the good work of Better Angels to my local community of Sacramento. I want others to see it work too.

Steve Sphar is a leader of Better Angels in California

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