How Can We Build Common Ground? – Part 2

This morning, I posted How Can We Build Common Ground Between Bubbles?  (Thanks for your kind words, Jen.)

This afternoon, I got the following email from the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, which addresses my post:


The Presidential election and the week following has brought the deep divides in this nation to a head, and brought to light numerous issues in our country.  The results show us that huge swaths of the country feel unheard and anxious about the future, and sadly, many responses to the election and events taking place in its wake have highlighted issues of pent up frustration, racism, bigotry, and more.

We don’t know for sure what the coming weeks, months, and years will bring, but we do know this: dialogue & deliberation is more critical than ever.  Our community may need some time to process this and think about what to do next, but we know our involvement is essential to helping bridge our divides, addressing substantive disagreements, and finding ways for us to work and move forward together as a nation.

The Needs We See & Our Network’s Response

There are many different needs that our country and our communities have right now, but we see a few key needs that stand out as ones that are especially suited for D&D solutions: bridging long-standing divides, processing hopes and fears together, encouraging and maintaining civility in our conversations, and humanizing groups who have become “the other.”

We at NCDD have been discussing bridging our divides all year, and we have an ongoing campaign focused on that work, but the election highlights that need even more.  The partisan divide is always there, of course, as well as our historical racial divides.  But the election also highlighted the disconnect between rural and urban communities, between people who attended college and who didn’t, and between people from different class statuses.  The D&D community needs to be responding to all of these divides – exploring their origins, understanding how they impact people, and imagining how we can dissolve them.  Essential Partners just released a Guide for Reaching Across Red-Blue Divides that can be a helpful tool for these needed conversations, and there are more.

After the election, people also need to process and reflect.  There is a critical need for dialogue right now where people can express how their feeling and explore their hopes and worries for the weeks and months to come.  Processes like Conversation Cafe are easy access points for people looking to have a dialogue to reflect on the election as well as what they’d like to see happen now.  It’s a tool that provides the structure people need to have thoughtful, respectful conversations in person, and Essential Partners’ work to engage people about what happens #AfterNov8 is a good social media complement.

There is also a need – possibly more than ever – for civility in our discussions that allows us to disagree without attacking each other.  D&D practitioners have our work cut out for us in helping people approach both public and private post-election conversations with civility and respect.  Several NCDD members are leading efforts to maintain and restore it, with the National Institute for Civil Discourse leading the charge in their Revive Civility campaign, yet much more is needed.

Finally and maybe most importantly, the country needs help finding approaches to humanizing the people and groups that have become “the other” – unapproachable and unredeemable caricatures – to our own groups.  Conservatives are feeling unfairly villified and misunderstood.  Many immigrants, Muslims, and women are feeling threatened, at risk, and unwelcome.  NCDD is continuing to support this work and promote collaboration through our new Race, Police, & Reconciliation listserv, and Not In Our Town has many resources for opposing bullying and hate groups that we recommend checking out.  But this strand of potentially transformational D&D work needs much more energy and investment devoted to it in coming months and years.

Share What You’re Doing

As we look ahead, we want to ask NCDD members and our broader network, what work are you doing in response to the election and the issues that have arisen?  What resources can you share to help others at this time?

Please share any efforts you are making, ideas you have, resources or tools you know of that could be helpful in the comments section of this post or on the #BridgingOurDivides campaign post.  We learn so much from being in communication with one another about what we’re up to.  NCDD will continue to share your responses on the NCDD Blog and our social media using the hashtag #BridgingOurDivides to continue lifting up stories and resources to a broader audience, and we’ll be working to compile the best divide-bridging resources in our Resource Center.

Furthermore, tell us what you think we can be doing together as a community to address the post-election landscape.  Let’s talk with one another about how we can work collaboratively to engage the public and bring peaceful interactions and greater understanding to everyone.

It’s clear there is a lot of work to do to help our country come together, and heal the divides this election season has unearthed or widened. Our community is well suited to do this work, and we call on all of us to be supporting one another in our efforts.


Courtney Breese

Managing Director, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation @ncdd @courtneybreese


3 thoughts on “How Can We Build Common Ground? – Part 2”

  1. Thanks very much for your post. I have definitely been struck by the inability of people on either side of the election debate to have constructive conversations, whether on social media, at home or anywhere else!

    Sheila Heen at the Harvard Negotiation Project has done some groundbreaking research on how we can better deal with Difficult Conversations. such as these. The project concluded that whenever we experience difficult conversations, whether it’s with a relative or over an emotive political issue, it actually always come back to our internal voice and how we identify ourselves. I recommended looking into this research to anyone who wants to understand and start healing the divides which have grown as a result of the election.

  2. Thank you for this post! It is definitely something we can all try and think about going into this holiday season as we reconnect with those distant relatives. The question of how to bridge gaps in prevalent divides is, I believe, now more important than ever to consider after this recent presidential election. Since we are a few weeks out, I think that most of us have had the time to process our own hopes and fears in regards to moving forward. I know personally, I am past my initial shock and have been able to figure out what the real reasoning behind my emotions. Now that I have done this for myself I will be better able to communicate with others my feelings and justifications for them, which will help foster a civil dialogue.

    To further ensure constructive conversation, I have been trying to think of ways in which to better relate to those with adverse opinions from myself. To do this I have been trying to put myself in their position and frame of mind. I am trying to see beyond the promises their candidate was making, and they were supporting, to try and understand the reasoning behind why they were so appealing to them. I think we often see the position of our adversary, but fail to dig deeper to discover their interests when the position is not one we agree with. Though this is hard, I believe that by discovering each other’s underlying interest we may be able to find common ground. This common ground will be able to foster healthier relationships and hopefully increase empathy among people. I also believe that by uncovering the interest of our counterpart we will in turn be “humanizing” them along the way. Although it is difficult to see past differing positions, the desire to try and understand what lies beneath goes a long way in fostering positive conversation when discussing difficult topics with someone else because it shows you care.

    Overall, I appreciate this article especially going into the time of year when i’ll be surrounded by opinionated relatives! Definitely something I will keep in the back of my mind.

  3. Thank you for the post. I completely agree with the idea that open dialogue needs to be at the forefront of unity. Unfortunately, I have noticed over multimedia and sites such as facebook that there appears to be a huge divide. The divide has led to many hateful interpretation of the outcome of the election. In addition, many are attacking the other side without giving them a chance to defend their opinions. Immediately following the election I noticed a ton of this “one sided, close minded attack” in both directions. I know you gave ideas to create open dialogue but I think a bigger question is how to get people to listen? A major issue especially now is that almost everyone wants to believe that they are right, in every way, especially when it comes to politics and they hate losing even more. How do we open negotiations between hard headed individuals (i guess i am looking towards the younger generations a bit more than older ones)? Do you have any ideas? Or do you think people will just continue shouting at the top of their lungs believing that if they are the loudest they must be right?

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