Better Angels Brings An Interesting Challenge: Can We Talk?


A Group Dedicated to the Proposition That We Should Actually Listen to Each Other

Are You Talking to Me? 

Last weekend I put in half a day or so with a group called Better Angels. This is a national group, although thin in many areas. The program I attended last Saturday was their first in the Western portion of my state.

Before I go any further, note that I will put a link to their website at the end of this post. You can see for yourself who they are and what they aspire to achieve. I will do my best to give you the short version here.

I think it fair to say that their central formulation is as follows. Polarized tribalism is dividing the country and doing great damage in doing so. People of any persuasion are unlikely to leave the country en masse. So, we can start figuring out how to communicate with each other or settle in for permanent civil war.

Better Angels events are to be populated by people on both sides of the political divide or a particular proposition. Our group was more blue than red, not surprising given our locale. But we were about evenly split on the question of the day: Should Donald Trump be impeached?

Better Angels provide a parliamentary debate format. This is less pointed than conventional debate. Facilitators keep things on track and nonviolent (OK, a bit of exaggeration on that last point).

We Surrender to Tribalism at Our Peril

I am not convinced they have a winning formula. But it has potential and I am willing to cheer on anyone willing to try getting us talking. The very first blog I wrote on this site referred to a trip I did to the Middle East some years ago.

I visited Lebanon, Israel, and Cyprus. What I saw was a collection of societies that had been in conflict so long that they could not envision any other reality. They had lost the ability to talk with each other in any meaningful sense. I came back thinking they are doomed. There was little I saw that gave me any hope things would be better 50 years from now. I fear we are starting down a similar track.

Small groups like Better Angels seem to be sprouting up around the country. Who knows, one or more could take root and help save us from ourselves. Better Angels is working on focused conversations. I have heard that another group is looking for agreement on a range of solutions on a nonpartisan basis. Still another, I am told, invites Reds and Blues to sit down over a meal and talk in small mixed groups.

I left our session thinking there are shortfalls in the Better Angels process. Still, I left with some surprises in my experience that I did not have previously. For example, I was reminded that people in the same political party can disagree on a given course of action. Our group had as many Blue voters as Red opposing impeachment. They did so for very different reasons, of course, but there we are.

I also found myself lingering for quite a while talking with the fellow next to me for the morning. This was interesting, because we had disagreed on a lot of things during the day. Still, the format made it possible for us to talk if we wanted to do so. I am glad we did. I still think he is wrong on issues we discussed, but I saw he was not a right-wing robot. He just had different views and experiences than mine.

Bottom Line

I don’t see movements like this healing our nation, but they can help. It seems to me we would all do well to support them and try their programs. If you can fill a good size room up with Red and Blue citizens at least willing to talk, this cannot be a bad thing.

To check out Better Angels, go to

       Bill Clontz

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