By Alicia Method, Staff Writer
The 2016 United States presidential election highlighted the growing discord in American politics between the reds and blues. Since then, the intense polarization between political parties has remained a key issue in national politics and citizens’ lives. On Saturday afternoon in the College Union Building, Better Angels hosted a workshop focused on cultivating skills for friendly political conversation to combat this problem.
Better Angels is an organization with more than 8,000 members in the nation working to depolarize the United States by holding many different workshops and debates that bring conservatives and liberals together.
Their connection with Gettysburg College began when President Iuliano challenged the Eisenhower Institute (EI) to organize a series of conversations on civil discourse across campus. The EI, along with the Campus Climate Study Implementation group invited Better Angels to campus.
Saturday’s workshop, as a part of this civil discourse series, worked to begin diplomatic political conversation in an especially relevant part of the country.
“The College’s unique location on Gettysburg battlefield also reminds us what’s at stake if we can’t find ways to overcome polarization,” EI Program Coordinator Kevin Lavery said.
The audience watched a presentation by Better Angels which laid out helpful techniques, such as listening and speaking skills, for discussing politics with those who hold different viewpoints. There was a particular focus on finding common ground and asking informational questions instead of loaded questions.
Participants were then invited to practice these skills with partners who shared the same political views as themselves, allowing for more relaxed conversations. The pairs concentrated on effectively sharing what they believed on certain topics as well as listening to what their partner had to say.
Following the meeting, many participants spoke of an increased awareness of their conversational tactics and feelings of hope spurred by Better Angel’s mission. Blake Dudley ‘23 spoke about his experience saying, “It’s a great idea and something that should continue to happen. It’s great at bringing people together and creating a unified spirit.”
Another participant, Adjunct Instructor of Art and Art History Brent Blair said, “Gatherings like this are good to continue conversations. We are in such a divisive time so being able to get together with different people and practice skills for conversation is a wonderful opportunity.”
The Better Angels workshop contributed to Gettysburg’s mission to increase discussion between diverse groups across campus and enhance listening and speaking skills to allow for healthy discourse across political bounds.