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Political divide has hit home for many

There were 16 of us.

Ten women, six men in an upstairs conference room at Crandall Public Library when we all should have been outside on the most gorgeous evening so far this spring.

But we weren’t.

We had work to do.

We had all signed up for the Better Angels program and we were locked in for the next two-and-a-half hours for a skills workshop.

I’ve been talking up the organization for the last month or so and was kind of disgusted that no one had signed up for a couple scheduled programs in Glens Falls earlier this spring.

So I called up Bruce France, the Capital District organizer, and urged him to try again, and this time I would help.

I blogged about it, wrote a column, got one member of our editorial board interested and urged others across the community to check it out.

After all, it was just the country that was at stake.

Consider this from the Better Angels handbook:

“The United States is disuniting. The last presidential election only made clear what many have feared — that we’re becoming two Americas, each angry with the other, and neither trusting the other’s basic humanity and good intentions. Today Americans increasingly view their political opponents not only as misguided, but also as bad people whose ways of thinking are both dangerous and incomprehensible. This degree of civic rancor threatens our democracy.”

Is there anything there you disagree with?

Anything?

I think it is an accurate reflection of where the country stands emotionally.

Better Angels was launched in 2016 with the mission to bridge the political divide.

To bring us back together.

That is a tall order.

Over the past couple weeks, Better Angels held two information programs and one skills workshop at the library. More than 50 turned out for the three meetings.

As France went around the room, asking each person why they were there, I was taken aback by the personal stories, and specifically the concern many participants felt.

More than one talked about how the political divide had impacted family relationships.

For some, politics had become a forbidden subject.

For others, relationships were frayed.

One person explained she had decided to run for office in her town and wanted to be able to talk to people with different viewpoints better.

I was impressed.

There was palpable concern.

I thought of all the elected officials I had reached out to, urging them to participate, urging them to bring party officials and regular folks to be part of a greater community solution.

These were the people who are supposed to be concerned about their communities.

None showed, and sadly that says something too.

I won’t sugarcoat it.

This was tough work.

France took us through a series of exercises on how to improve our listening and speaking skills.

It all sounded so easy when he explained it to us, but in practice it was like learning a foreign language.

You could feel the frustration in the room as we partnered up and discussed volatile issues while trying not to pick a fight.

We kept pushing forward, stumbling, bumbling our way as we tried to listen to our partner. I didn’t think I did very well. My partner agreed.

But we also felt we had made progress. We could see how we were supposed to do it, and many in the room agreed they were going to try to put what they learned into everyday practice.

They wanted to change.

They wanted to be better listeners and speakers.

France says Better Angels will be back in Glens Falls in the fall.

He hopes to bring the group’s red-blue workshop to town where six Republican-leaning citizens take part with six Democratic-leaning citizens to talk to each other.

The goal is to learn about each other and what each really believes while coming away with a better understanding.

And a reminder that we are all still Americans.

Ken Tingley is editor of The Post-Star in Glens Falls.

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