A promising local approach to bridging our political divide
Retired educator Connie Bean has an intriguing idea that could help us strengthen our community and soften the political divide that disconnects us.
Recently, Connie hosted a dinner with a group of her trusted friends whose political views run the gamut from liberal to conservative. When it came time for dessert, Connie had a surprise for them — she suggested they talk politics. She sensed immediately the tension rising in the room.
Wanting to do something constructive that might create greater understanding, Connie cooked up the concept she calls “Talk to Me,” an intentional conversation about a difficult topic. Maintaining relationships while exploring deep and difficult topics were the guiding principles of Connie’s experiment.
To sidestep acrimony, she laid out the following ground rules for the discussion: Each person was asked to share his or her political perspective and talk about the events or experiences that shaped their views. One person would speak at a time without interruption; and at the conclusion of their remarks, others could only ask questions that advanced the conversation. If, at any time, any person who felt too uncomfortable to continue could raise their hand and depart as friends. Everyone was asked to maintain a conversational tone. This was not to be a debate.
What unfolded around Connie’s dining table was a rich conversation among friends who had significantly different political beliefs, she told me. The common thread was that every person deeply loved this country. Connie got the idea after reading Gordon Wood’s book, Friends Divided, which recounts how Thomas Jefferson and John Adams maintained their relationship despite deep differences.
In our society, “we were taught not to talk politics and yet expect our elected officials… to know how to talk to one another,” Connie observed. Yet, “politics affects each of us every day,” she added.
Connie, an 83-year-old retired teacher and principal, describes herself as a Dan Evans Republican. It is notable that her father was an orphan who emigrated from Russia at the age of 13 and landed in Seattle. He was fleeing the violence that was engulfing that country and so she has great empathy and understanding for those who are trying to come to the United States from violence-torn countries in Central and South America, as well as other parts of the world.
The University of Washington graduate has been in the Wenatchee Valley since 1968. After her first husband died, she married Realtor and civic leader Jay Bean. Her life has been committed to bringing people together, building relationships and lifelong learning.
She expressed dismay about the current toxic political environment in this country that is ripping apart the threads of community. Never one to step back from a difficult challenge, she decided to see if she could help in some small way. That was the genesis of the Talk to Me concept.
This approach requires no formal organization and no funding, Connie told me. It is an elegantly simple approach that any person could initiate with a group of their friends or colleagues.
I am so thankful that Connie reached out and shared this wonderful idea. Strengthening the bonds of community is the most important thing we can do. We cannot fix Washington D.C. or Olympia by venting anger and isolating ourselves. We can only do this by being the change with our families, our friends and in our community.
Transforming our political conversations won’t happen unless each one of us takes the initiative. The seeds of change are planted when we look in the mirror and realize that we have to be the change.
Those who would like more information are welcome to contact me.