Proof we can bridge the US political divide

Things look scary to me in America right now.

There’s so much fear and anger the country seems to be reaching some kind of breaking point.

Republicans and Democrats don’t just disagree. It’s become more normal to hate each other.

So I feel particularly proud that I and Melissa Abecassis did something that felt very subversive on Thursday night. We invited Trump and Biden supporters to listen to each other, respectfully.

We recorded it for our Empathy Dinners podcast, which you can listen to on all the different platforms, including YouTube.

It was very apparent how high tensions were running as we tried to find people to take part.

Supporters of both parties declined our invitation because they said they either hated the other side or hated what they had to say.

But eventually we found Americans who were walking willing to try to understand the other side’s point of view.

Our format

The way we encouraged them to listen rather than debate, was through a very structured series of rounds that were designed to humanise the other person.

Round one (90 seconds)

Tell us what is important to you in life.

Round two (3 mins)

Say why you think yours is the best candidate.

Round three (2 mins)

The listener now has two minutes to say what they liked about what they just heard.

Round four (6 mins)

The listener can now ask questions to clarify what they just heard in order to better understand.

Round five (2 mins)

The listener now has to sum up the key points of what was important to the speaker.

They then switch round.

We did the process twice, with one Biden supporter talking to two different Trump supporters.

Radically contrasting perspectives

Talk show host Jesse Lee Peterson called Trump, ‘the great white hope’. He said the Civil Rights Movement was worse than slavery because it divided the country, and that Trump was going to unite it.

Alyssa Vircks said she loves how patriotic Trump was, how much he had grown the economy, that he is Christian and pro-life, and is only US President to not have started a war.

Lily C. Hansen said Trump is a bully, Hitler-type, with the same personality as a serial killer. What is important to her is kindness, curiosity and empathy, which Biden exhibits and Trump does not. She said Biden had a much better plan for dealing with Covid-19.

They all said things that would normally make the other side angry and combative. But they all remained calm and friendly, which was really remarkable given how rare it is to see.

Finding common humanity

When we did our Empathy Dinner on Brexit, one participant said afterwards, ‘We basically all want the same thing, we’ve just got different ideas of how to get there’.

They all agreed that democracy, peace, prosperity and political autonomy were good things. They just disagreed on whether Brexit would serve those goals.

In contrast, at the end of these dialogues, the feeling seemed to be ‘We want completely different things, but I respect you nonetheless.’

But there were points of agreement.

Both sides wanted a country that is prosperous, united in the sense of not being at war with itself, a foreign policy that promotes peace, fewer unwanted pregnancies, and a leader who acts from love, rather than hate.

That gave me great hope that it is possible to bridge the political divides that seem on the surface to be becoming more and more intractable.

I truly believe that if we are to deal with the great challenges that we face in the world at the moment, including the Corona Virus and climate change, we’re not going to do it by arguing the other side into submission.

We need to be able to listen to people who have totally different views to us, and recognise that on some level, we do have shared goals.

Only then will we be able to move forward and find solutions.

My work is all about love. Loving yourself, loving other people and loving the earth. I do that through writing, podcasting, coaching, running workshops.