Political Civility: Talking to People Who Disagree with You

‘Be ready to be nice to people. Then listen with both ears’

By Mary-Sherman Willis
Special to the Rappahannock News

Courtesy photo

“We need to bring back the political center.”

So Meg Heubeck told a crowd of 25 or so at the Library on Tuesday night. The director of educational outreach at the UVA Center for Politics, Heubeck held a training workshop for constructive conversations across party lines.

Even though animosity has shrunk that center since the mid-1990s, Heubeck said, some 80 percent of us actually still identify somewhere between the extreme right and left.

However, the 24-hour news cycle, and our tendency to look for information that confirms what we already think, locks us into a kind of hunter-gatherer political tribalism. But, said Heubeck, we can train ourselves out of it.

“Remember that each of us loves our country, our community, and our families,” she said. And everyone has a voice. “That’s at the core, those American values. That’s what we’re protecting, even in a diverse community.”

The friendly crowd spanned the political spectrum from conservative to liberal, according to organizer Bob Burney. They broke into small problem-solving groups to test those voices. A simple question — what is the greatest challenge to the future of Rappahannock? — brought a gamut of answers and a prescription for positive citizenship.

First, we need to get to know our neighbors. Ask them about their experiences. Learn how government works. Identify areas of similarity. Be prepared to compromise toward a consensus.

“Bring your brain,” said Heubeck, “and be ready to be nice to people. Then listen with both ears.”

Heubeck praised organizations like the National Institute for Civil Discourse, Unite America, No Labels, and Common Cause for bridging the political divide in America and bolstering its political center. For more information, contact Bob Burney, BurneyRG@me.com.

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