It’s been so noisy lately that I’ve had trouble hearing what my friends and neighbors are saying.
News reports, social media posts, editorials, letters to the editor, and even email exchanges seem to regularly result in shouting matches that have nearly drowned out conversations about important things like how we treat each other, how we relearn how to listen with the goal of understanding, how might we find the common ground that exists for most things.
With very few exceptions, I believe that people are basically kind, wish good for others, and work hard. I feel that we don’t need to completely agree on everything in order to be friends, neighbors or simply friendly acquaintances. I’m thinking about big things like religion, the value of family and friends, and the need to be honest, kind and courteous in our dealing with others. We simply will never agree on all the details of these types of things.
I have been searching for a way to have real conversations about things that matter to me without others immediately telling me that I obviously either don’t care or am naive; that if I don’t agree with them that I’m either mean or stupid; or that they strongly suspect I’m either a racist or a socialist; that I want to ignore history, or that I’ve clearly been duped.
I think I’ve found something that can help. It’s an organization called Braver Angels. It wants to change hearts, not minds. It wants to talk and listen, not argue. It’s dedicated to creating safe places to have what some might think are dangerous conversations.
Braver Angels, formerly known as Better Angels, was named after a line in Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, “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...when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Braver Angels is the nation’s largest grassroots movement uniting “red” and “blue” Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. Its work is aimed at restoring civic trust and healing the wounds between left and right. It is about challenging individuals and institutions to be better, building community together, and discovering what it means to be American in our time.
It is guided by words from another Lincoln speech, which are carved into the wall of the Lincoln Memorial, “With malice toward none; with charity for all...let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds...to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
In support of this work, we have formed a Western North Carolina Braver Angels Alliance. As with all other Braver Angels groups and activities, the alliance includes both those who “lean red” (conservatives, Republicans, independents) and those that “lean blue” (liberals, Democrats, independents) and everything in between. We have come together in order to work together, and hope that you might consider joining us.
Steve Steinbrueck is a Sylva resident. He is retired from a career in health care and related research and teaching.