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Art & Soul: The Art Of Well Being - Improving Communication In A Politically Polarizing Time

Better Angels
Better Angels

This week, "Art and Soul" is about the art of well being.  WEMU’s Lisa Barry talks with Maggie Bayless, founder and co-managing partner of ZingTrain, part of the Zingerman’s community of businesses, about her volunteer work with “Better Angels.”  It's a national organization founded after the last election with the intention of decreasing the amount of polarization between the two ends of the political spectrum.

About Better Angels

Better Angels
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU
89.1 WEMU
Maggie Bayless

Better Angels is a national citizens’ movement to reduce political polarization in the United States by bringing liberals and conservatives together to understand each other beyond stereotypes, forming red/blue community alliances, teaching practical skills for communicating across political differences, and making a strong public argument for depolarization.

How Better Angels' "Red and Blue Workshops" Work

5-8 Republican-leaning citizens (“Reds”) and 5-8 Democratic-leaning citizens (“Blues”) gather together for a half-day or full-day of structured conversations.  Independents are also welcome to attend.  They only ask that for the purposes of the workshop they identify as leaning either Red or Blue, or attend as observers.

There are two types of Red/Blue workshops: 3-hour workshops that cover two exercises, and 6-hour plus lunch workshops that cover all four exercises.  They recommend that people attend the 6-hour version if possible.

Two moderators, trained by Better Angels, lead the workshop, ensuring that ground rules are followed and that everyone is treated respectfully.

The Goals:

  • To better understand the experiences and beliefs of those on the other side of the political divide.
  • To see if there are areas of commonality in addition to differences.
  • To learn something that might be helpful to others in our community and the nation.

The Process:

After a brief introduction and discussion of ground rules, attendees of Red/Blue workshops participate in four exercises:

  1. Stereotypes Exercise – Separate red and blue groups generate, discuss, and report back on the most common false stereotypes or misconceptions of their side, why these stereotypes are wrong, what is true instead, and whether there is a kernel of truth in the stereotype.
  2. Fishbowl Exercise – In the Fishbowl exercise, one group sits in chairs in the middle and the other group sits around them to listen and learn.  Then the two groups switch positions. There is no interaction between the groups during the fishbowl exercise.  Afterwards, people are invited to share what they learned about how the other side sees themselves and if they see anything in common.
  3. Questions Exercise – In the Questions exercise, separate groups of reds and blues meet to generate questions of understanding (as opposed to “gotcha” questions).  They then merge into mixed groups of half reds and half blues, and ask the questions to the other side to gain genuine understanding of the views and experiences of people on the other side.
  4. How Can We Contribute Exercise – Everyone fills out an action grid handout and then pairs up with someone of the other color to share one action step with the whole group.  The question: What can each of us do individually, what can our side do, and what might both sides do together to promote better understanding of differences and search for common ground?

There is an upcoming workshop coming to Ann Arbor on December 14 called "Can We Bridge the Political Divide?"  For all of the details and to register, click here.  You can submit any additional questions to Better Angels by clicking here

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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