Difficult Conversations To Bridge The Divide
Much has been said about our divided country, where an alienated population found a voice and won a presidency by default. Many, including we, are mulling over how that happened. We must figure it out.
Words like “fear” and “worth the risk” are often offered up as an explanation of the pro-Trump vote. A particular reaction to disliked candidates is proposed as the reason over 100 million eligible voters stayed home. But that sounds far too simplistic. The fact is that we will not know what motivated these voters unless we talk to them, and they to us.
We all know how difficult it has been to have conversations with those who are on the other side. On both sides of the divide, we have raised our voices, assigned pejorative labels, and made assumptions--or perhaps just walked away. That will not advance our thinking or bridge the gap.
To be sure, we did speak to some people--like someone we have known for decades who hated Hillary so much because of Benghazi that she took the risk of a Trump presidency. Others we know voted for Mr. Trump because they thought he would be good for business, and would lower taxes. Reasonable positions, though we would not have made the same judgments.
And we heard about others. There was the Coast Guard Academy officer, a young black woman, who engaged with a young male Trump voter, first making clear that she did not assume he was a racist, who really wanted to understand why he didn’t care how she felt about Trump’s campaign rhetoric. There was the retired career woman who drove us a little crazy by actively engaging just about everyone she came across--from former colleagues, to taxi drivers, to gardeners, to doormen--about who they were voting for and why. There was our former high school classmate who insisted on watching two sets of “news,” side by side.
But mostly we stayed in our own individual echo chambers. It was safer there.
We can’t keep that up. The gulf that divides us will only get deeper and more entrenched. And so we have reminded each other that to be successful at work, we couldn’t shy away from difficult conversations. We had to engage people. We started by finding common ground, and when that foundation was set we moved to our differences, listening hard about what the others said they needed, trying to convince them otherwise, and if we couldn't, using our imagination to meet their needs in some other way. Sometimes, of course, we had to just agree to disagree. As a group, we wouldn't have survived without being able to have these conversations and to advance our understanding. Doing so was valuable in and of itself.
We need to take our skills and actively engage with those whose views we find difficult to understand. Maybe even abhorrent. If we can do that, learn from what we hear, and maybe even find some common ground, we can help to put our country back together again.