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How to Handle "Uncle Al" on Thanksgiving

Or, "How to Have a Civil Conversation with Someone Who Disagrees with You"


During the next few weeks of the holiday season many of us will visit and break bread with relatives and friends that we don't see very often. And, most likely, don't see eye to eye on the big political and cultural issues that have ripped apart our nation into two polarized camps. Fortunately, Braver Angels can help.



Braver Angels is a national organization that has been working since the fall of 2016 to teach people how to talk and work with others who see things differently. Here are two examples of how Braver Angels discussions and workshops actually work.


In this first video story, Brian Calfano, shows us what a Braver Angels discussion looks like. He asked student volunteers from the University of Cincinnati and their professor and Braver Angels member, Professor Eugene Rutz, to discuss four hot topics using Braver Angels rules.


These rules include:

1) listening first, then speak,

2) don’t try to change the other person’s mind, and

3) don’t assume members of any one "group" (eg. Democrats) all think the same.


Here’s an example of how one of the four hot topics—climate change and government regulation of it—is discussed by four young people: two conservatives and two progressives. Watch (4 min) or read the full story …


Another example of how Braver Angels helps conservatives and progressives talk through controversial issues while remaining civil and, in some cases, actually becoming friends, is shared by Braver Angels author April Lawson. Republicans and Democrats have different fears about elections. That’s all the more reason they should talk. Political opposites often work with different information. Once information is shared, solutions — and even friendships — are possible. In the November 7, 2022, edition of the Deseret News April writes...


When people on the two sides oppose one another, it’s often because they are working from very different information. Once they exchange information, they are much more aligned. At one Braver Angels workshop, a progressive mentioned that there were incredibly long lines to vote in 2020 in predominantly Black neighborhoods of Atlanta. The conservatives in the room said repeatedly, “I am concerned about voter suppression. I had no idea there were long lines in Atlanta!” This new information led them to insist that the problem be addressed immediately.


Conversely, when a Trump supporter who had monitored elections in his home region of southern California described all the discrepancies he’d seen working the polls, and told stories of all the people who had approached him with concerns that their ballot wasn’t being properly handled, many of the progressives were surprised. One speaker was an election worker in Ohio who had shared how airtight the process she had observed was in Ohio, but many participants seemed largely unaware of how different voting security practices can be in different parts of the country. (Read the full story here.)


For more information about Braver Angels go to our national website, or to our Minnesota state website.


A Personal Note: I’ve been a member of Braver Angels since 2018 and am in the process of starting up a local Alliance (a local chapter) of Braver Angels in the Western Suburbs of Minneapolis. A local Alliance will help to bring a large variety of tools and resources to our local area to better equip our neighbors and communities to work with one another with greater civility and mutual respect. To talk further with me about this email me at sgartland@BraverAngels.org.

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