Ripples #1249: Good Faith Conversations

The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another person’s observation, not overturning it.
-Edward Bulwer-Lytton, shared by Mary in Colorado

A good faith conversation begins with curiosity, gropes toward awakening and retires in mercy. It strengthens our better ideas and challenges and hopefully corrects our low-quality or unsound ideas; it understands that we are all flawed and prone to the occasional lamentable idea; it sympathizes with the common struggle to articulate our place in the world, to make sense of it, and to breathe meaning into it.
-Nick Cave, shared by Leslie in Madison, WI [synthesized from The Red Hand Files Issue #212]

Last week my best friend and I attended a local chapter meeting of Braver Angels, a grassroots organization founded by and filled with both conservative and progressive citizens who want to reduce polarization and increase civility in everyday life. On our way to the meeting we hypothesized that moderates would be far more likely to attend such a gathering….but the bumper stickers on the cars in the parking lot proved us wrong!

This particular meeting included a short learning session about some of the cognitive biases that get in the way of clear thinking and calmer conversations:
Confirmation Bias: the tendency to accept information that supports our current beliefs and to dismiss information that conflicts with our current beliefs
Sunk Cost Fallacy: sticking with an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, and/or money, even when the costs outweigh the benefits
Affinity Bias: we as human beings tend to spend time with (and like) people who are like us
Fundamental Attribution Error: the tendency to attribute our foes’ mistakes to stupidity or a character flaws, while attributing circumstances or accidents when we (or our friends) make similar mistakes
(definitions from “The Ties That Bind Us Can Blind Us” Workshop Handout, Braver Angels Greater Cincinnati Alliance, April 2023)

We then spent some time in silence writing down examples of when these biases played into our thinking, words and actions, and reflecting on how awareness of these biases might influence our future behavior. The most meaningful part of the evening for me was the time in small group conversations, allowing me to get a deeper appreciation that I’m far from the only person who is longing for more civil engagement on the difficult issues of the day. I’m not gonna lie: I had entered the building with more than a bit of trepidation. By the time it was over, I was so glad I took a chance and moved a little out of my comfort zone.

These types of conversations involve significants amount of time, energy, and emotional labor. They can be challenging, and it can feel really risky to engage with people that we have previously dismissed or demonized. There’s also a lot to learn: about our society, about each other, and about ourselves. They are hard, and they are worth it…especially if you can enter into them assuming the best intentions of all involved, and activating more curiosity than judgment.

If stretching that far seems like a little “too much” for you right now, at least consider this: for however long you’ve been reading these weekly splashes of inspiration, you’ve been regularly connecting with a vast network of 30,000 ripplers who span the political, religious, and cultural spectrum that makes our world such a difficult and also interesting place to live.

P.S. I also learned about two other organizations doing similar work:
Bridge USA is a student-led group that is encouraging open dialogue on political issues among college and high school students
Starts With Us encourages curiosity, compassion, and courage with a focus on improving media, technology, and community

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