Are we being trust and bridge builders in our community?
The most important work we can do as individuals and within businesses and civic organizations is to become trust builders and bridge builders in our communities. It is vital that we develop the personal discipline to listen to and learn from people who have different views and perspectives rather than demonize them.We will also need to fix the perverse incentives in our political system that are fostering division.
That is the antidote to the divisions that are plaguing this country – divisions that sadly are fostered by our two political parties, large media corporations as well as social media companies.
Those were key messages at the annual luncheon put on by the Ruckelshaus Center last week that featured author Mark Gerzon and filmmaker Ben Rehki. William Ruckelshaus, for whom the center is named, lived and breathed the values of integrity and bridge building during his distinguished legal and political career. The center, a collaboration between Washington State University and the University of Washington, is doing important work in helping solve thorny policy issues in this state.
Rehki’s film, The Reunited States, should be required viewing for every one of us who loves this country. You can catch it on Amazon Prime or on other platforms.
Gerzon wrote a book with that title and he and Rehki collaborated in developing the film, which does a remarkable job exploring how people are working to understand the perspectives of people who are different.
“Every organization in the country that’s bridging divides is basically, I think, the key to the future of our country,” said Gerzon at the virtual luncheon.
The movie follows people who are doing the work of bridging divides and seeking to understand others, such as a conservative couple who sold their home and went on a 50-state road trip to learn about people with different views and life experiences.
Another person featured in the film is Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia when a man drove his car into a crowd of counter protestors at a white nationalist rally.
Every person featured in the film was seeking to meet people where they were – a good model for how we can make changes in our own communities and our own lives.
At the heart of this work is trust, said Gerzon. “The future is really about (whether we can) rebuild trust in our nation, trust in government and trust between citizens,” he said.
One of the challenging things about trust is that mistrust of government is a core part of our history. As Gerzon noted, “we are a very individualistic society that is based on individual freedom and that is based on a mistrust of government. But what happens when that fragmenting goes too far?”
The key challenge is to reinspire Americans to see that we are all on the same team, he added. “If we don’t work as a team, we’re going to lose militarily and we’re going to lose politically, we’re going to lose economically.” Gerzon said.
At present, our two-party system has become a threat to democracy. As Rehki put it, “the two parties disagree on everything except for one thing, which is let’s keep everyone else out, let’s keep out any other party.”
The divided state in our country is not hopeless. Thank goodness the Ruckelshaus Center and so many other local and national organizations are working together to help us see beyond the divide and see the humanity in those with whom we disagree.
We have a lot of individuals who are bridge builders here in our valley, and also key organizations, such as the YMCA, the Community Foundation of North Central Washington, the Icicle Fund, Serve Wenatchee Valley, Upper Valley Mend, the Washington Apple Education Foundation, Our Valley Our Future, Community for the Advancement of Family Education, and many others.
The question we must ask ourselves every step of the way is whether we are being trust builders and bridge builders.