Episode 10: Ask Me Anything

Mónica is joined by four friends in bridge building to answer your toughest questions about our shared mission of connecting across the political divide. Angel Eduardo, April Lawson, Manu Meel and Wilk Wilkinson get real about the challenges, opportunities, and misconceptions about our movement – are we all just a bunch of squishy centrists that brush deep concerns under the rug? And how can we possibly be expected to talk to someone who doesn’t even think we have a right to exist? These are questions with no easy answers and we tackle them head on. Finally, find out what Superman, Taylor Swift and Kirk Cousins have in common as we cap off the first season of A Braver Way.

Credits
Host: Mónica Guzmán
Senior Producer & Editor: David Albright
Producer: Jessica Jones
Contributor: April Lawson
Artist in Residence: Gangstagrass
Cover Art & Graphics: Katelin Annes
Publishing Support: Mike Casentini
Show Notes: Ben Caron and Don Goldberg
Featured Song:  “Do Better” by Gangstagrass (Parental warning: Explicit lyrics)
A production of Braver Angels.
Financial Supporters: M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and Reclaim Curiosity.
Sponsors: USAFacts
Links
Call to Action:
  • Apply to attend the Braver Angels National Convention: Learn more and apply to attend here

  • Submit a question: If you’ve found yourself mulling on a concern or reflection as you’ve listened, turn it into a question and share it with us in a quick email to abraverway@braverangels.org

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Supporting Partners

All of our supporting partners are members of Braver Network


Let’s See Labs is a leadership development program and organization working to transform polarized cultural challenges into fuel for increased empathy, engagement, collaboration, and creativity.

Introduction & Season 1 Final Episode Thank You [00:00]  

Testimonials from Listeners [00:39]   

Ways to Stay in Touch During the Season Break [03:00]  

Introduction [03:39]  

Mónica talks about how the format of this Ask Me Anything episode is a panel discussion w/ fellow bridge builders across the divide [04:25]  

Introduction of Panelists: Host of Podcast, Derate the Hate, Wilk Wilkinson [05:45]  
Introduction of Panelists: Host of Podcast, The Hopeful Majority, Manu Meel [07:25]  

Introduction of Panelists: Creator of the concept of “Star-Manning,” Angel Eduardo [09:30]  

Introduction of Panelists: April Lawson [11:38]  

Introducing our Supporting Partner: Let’s See Labs [14:57]  

Panelists answer audience questions [16:02]  

Manu Meel speaks to the idea of “empty centrism” in bridge building in the face of injustice [16:44]

  • Meel: “When we think about bridging work, I think that this is much more about not what we believe, but it’s about how we believe. I think about our politics and the way that our discourse happens as that, we’re fighting a battle of temperament and mindset as opposed to a battle of ideological moderation.”

  • Meel: “Rather than thinking about bridge building as meeting in the middle, I think bridge building is about creating the table upon which to have that disagreement.”

  • Meel: “The best way to be an advocate for what you believe in is to understand why somebody disagrees with you, because that helps you actually understand why injustice occurs, I think, in a world in which we blot people out, and ‘bridging,’ I think, is the epitome of shining a spotlight on everybody’s story. And I think that’s actually what moves the page forward.”

  • Wilkinson: “Kill the bad idea, don’t kill the person. It’s not a matter of, you know, being civil about an idea that needs to be wrecked… You can do both. You can treat somebody with humanity.. find the humanity in the person, but then tear apart the concept.”

  • Lawson: “I cannot stand some of the aspects of the way that our field communicates because I do think…civility becomes tone policing, and that drives me nuts because I think there are real things that people need to express and that should not be expressed in gentle, civil, polite words. I think the trick is…to have the courage and the stamina to be with that. I think we need to be able to see the anger of hope for what it is and not tone police.”
 
Angel Eduardo speaks to having political conversations with people who are “unreasonable, uncharitable, and basically unfair in their political thought.” [23:01]

  • Eduardo: “What you can do in those circumstances is, first of all, ask yourself a question. ‘They’re being unreasonable, they’re being unfair,’ at least in your perception in that moment. ‘Why? Why are they doing that?’ That’s the question, right? They’re still motivated by something. They must feel that that behavior is at the very least justified by whatever it is that they’re trying to accomplish. And whatever that is, if you find it, that’s a way of disarming that engagement.”

  • Eduardo: “Something that I really enjoy doing is being a confounding variable, being the exception to their rule. So if they think that “my team” behaves like this, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to show them that I’m behaving differently. I’m going to disabuse them of this assumption. I’m going to be the anti -stereotype right in front of them. And that means that… even if they’re being uncharitable, even if they’re being dishonest, even if they’re being unfair, I’m going to lean into being more charitable and more fair and more honest. And I’m going to call out the fact that I don’t think things are working because it doesn’t seem like this person is reciprocating.”

  • Eduardo: “Not every conversation needs to be had right now in that moment, and not every conversation needs to be had by you. You’re not always the right person for it in that moment. So keeping that in mind is good too. It’s better to disengage than to engage poorly.”

  • Guzmán: “We think that people venting is a sign that, ‘oh, everything’s gone horribly wrong. This is no longer productive and can not go anywhere.’ Sometimes they just need a witness. They just need a witness. And even if it seems like they’re putting it all on you unfairly, maybe there’s a part of them that knows that that’s not the case, is unfair. And so the way that you respond to that or just receive it, or frankly, just let it blow by you, can be part of that for them.”

  • Lawson:  “The mistake not to make though, is don’t write that person off as somebody who’s always insincere or always going to be this way…That’s the one thing is like, don’t  give up on them.”
 
April Lawson speaks to how to engage with people who believe you shouldn’t have a right to exist, or are okay with people saying that [30:49]

  • Lawson: “The thing that has helped me with that is believing that it’s a failure of comprehension, not a failure of love and or loyalty.”

  • Lawson: “There is such a thing in my mind as ‘innocent ignorance,’ and there are probably things that I don’t know. So, with regard to the dehumanizing piece, the hard question I would invite you to ask yourself… ‘is there a group of people that you might not see also?’ And for some people, that’s, you know, violent people. For other people, it’s unborn children. For some people, it’s people of color, people who have behaved in certain ways… You have you have sometimes been the person who didn’t comprehend.” 

  • Meel: “Here’s the question I would ask people in return is not whether or not you should have a conversation with somebody that believes that a certain group should not exist. But the question I would ask them is ‘what happens if you don’t?’”

  • Wilkinson: “One of the biggest things is, the biggest barrier that continues to keep us apart, is people’s unwillingness to even have that conversation…These people [hate groups], you know, they are filled with hate and then they do ascribe to an evil ideology, but with with by just keeping them in your mind as a monster and not realizing that’s a human being and that in order to even hope that they will see the light at some point in time you have to have that conversation.”

  • Guzmán: “I really believe that a world that knows how to engage in the hardest contexts can prevent the evil much better than a world that doesn’t know how to do that. So it’s true that the evil exists…I don’t think we can prevent it all, I’m sure we can’t prevent it all, but I know that when people feel seen and heard hate is a lot harder.”

  • Meel: “Somebody’s got to talk, because if nobody’s reaching that person, then alienation and isolation is when wounds fester, and when evil festers, so I would also just interject the role of allies in this conversation.”
 
Monica speaks to the invalidation that can occur based on “hierarchies of power and oppression” [41:54]

  • Guzmán: “I think that there are folks who, you know, whether it’s out of fear, a sense of protection, a sense of threat, do have judgments quite ready and [they are] quite ready to pounce. And it is extremely difficult sometimes for people to want to hear or even get to know an individual underneath some kind of label underneath some kind of group. So if you open your mouth, if you get honest, the other person may not really hear you or accept you.”

  • Guzmán: “Sometimes the best way to argue against someone who believes you shouldn’t exist is to continue to exist in their presence and there’s a tension that I think we all can see in the world between being safe and being seen, but if no one like you is ever seen then the stereotypes will only continue and it will only get worse and the box will be worse…if you don’t put yourself in view, the world can’t reflect your view.” 

  • Eduardo: “I think it’s part of the problem here is how much of our relationships have become purely about agreeing on things rather than a more fundamental and deeper relationship, right? I argue with my siblings all the time. We get really into debating about a movie or something stupid or something really, really important political stuff. We’ll really get into it. We’re raising our voices. We’re super intense. We’re leaning over the table. But there’s not a moment in any of those exchanges where I don’t think and don’t feel and can’t say, “I love you,” even though I’m super heated and even though I’m super frustrated and I’m trying to get through and I’m trying to argue this point, I still love them and I think that that’s missing for a lot of people. And when it comes to strangers, it’s about establishing that and building that and saying, “I see you as a human being and I respect you fundamentally on that basis.” And when it’s somebody, when it’s like family, it’s about recognizing, you know, ‘you’re my mother, you’re my son, and I love you.’ And we have something beyond this and besides this that we can ground ourselves in so then this ‘thing’ doesn’t become so huge.”

  • Wilkinson: “When people start to see each of us, not as individuals, you know, the humanity in each of us, but start to place us in a group, and that group identity becomes everything they know about us, they start to lose sight of us as an individual…and then the disgust and animosity they have for that group then becomes projected onto us.. I no longer have my individual identity. I don’t even have the room to talk anymore because they aren’t seen past that box.”
 
Wilkinson answers a question on what citizens should do in the face of what they perceive as “radical authoritarianism,” which is a concern shared by both Reds and Blues [48:50]

  • Wilkinson: “Authoritarianism is something that we all need to be concerned about but it is it is the ‘outrage entrepreneurs’ and…’grievance grifters,’ people that are trying to drive home this thing that ‘we are facing authoritarianism’ every time something doesn’t go our way and it’s just not the case. I mean, every time the government does something that doesn’t comport with our particular lifestyle, it doesn’t mean they’re authoritarian. So we need to look at the stuff that we are consuming. We need to look at the information that we consume, where we get it from, and how much of it is actually valid, and how much of it is put forth into our laps by people who have a vested interest in keeping us separated.”

  • Wilkinson: “I am one of the biggest ‘individual liberty guys’ that you’ll probably ever meet.

And the idea that somebody is going to rob me of my liberties is as painful as any of the more than several broken bones that I’ve ever had…I know about violence. I know about pain and…most of that pain is self -inflicted because what we choose to consume and then how we choose to react to what we are consuming is often our poison pill. It is often what is our undoing.”

  • Lawson: “Alarm bells are easy, right? Social media is practically only alarm bells. And the thing that’s hard is living in a society and moving people, masses of people, to be different, believe different, act different, be open. And so I would argue that for somebody who thinks that the country is in some real danger, which like I said, I do, to me what that says is let’s get serious about it. But I think my personal belief is that getting serious about it means doing something other than ringing alarm bells, actually. It means, frankly, something harder, which is trying to get in the trenches and have the conversations.”

  • Eduardo: “I think part of the problem here is that if the alarm is ringing all the time, there’s no such thing as an alarm anymore. It’s important for us to realize that if our, if our cause is really, truly righteous and the stakes really are as high as we’re saying, that’s all the more reason to be allergic to hyperbole and dishonesty and that kind of thing. Because the stakes are so high, you don’t want to screw this up. You want it. to be as calm and reasoned as you can and approach it as dispassionately as you can so that you don’t make these terrible mistakes.”
 
Monica invites everyone to the Braver Angels National Convention in Summer 2024 [58:19]  

Each panelist shares something from the wider world, way beyond their world of bridge building, where they see hope and feel connection. [59:48]  

Monica shares about the podcast’s artist-in-residence, Gangstagrass [1:11:22]  

Featured Song: “Do Better” by Gangstagrass [1:12:44]

Mónica Guzmán: 

Hey, hey everyone! Before we get to today’s episode, I want to take just a quick second to say thank you all so much for being here with us for the first season of ““A Braver Way”!

That’s right I’m a little sad to let you know that this is the last episode of the season and when we started working on this months ago, we had no idea if what we were trying here was really gonna fly. The cool thing is you’ve been making it clear that it’s making a difference for you in big ways and sometimes really small ways and that was honestly the whole point.

I’m Sue Lani Madsen. My political leaning is conservative. I live in the reddest county in a blue state. I particularly like at the end of a session where Mónica and April have a conversation about what they just heard and how they relate to it because it invites the listener to also reflect on what they just heard and how it informs their own point of view of the world. 

I’m Carl. I live in Brooklyn, New York and I’m a Democrat. Thinking about the tools the podcast has given me, two words pop up: curiosity and humility. Curiosity about how other people can see the world so differently than I do and the humility to wonder whether they might know something I don’t.

I’m Mackenzie. I’m 16 years old from Pennsylvania. A lot of the media that I consume is telling me how to think a certain way or what my opinion should be on this issue. But “A Braver Way” is different because it’s just equipping me for thoughtful conversations, and it’s presenting different points of views that maybe I haven’t thought of before. 

Rose Gundersen:

I ran for office in 2023, hoping to have brave conversations and bring people together. But I wasn’t trained enough, I wasn’t ready. Now I’m on a mission to learn. I love the “A Braver Way” podcast because it’s inspiring me and many other people to whom I’ve recommended this podcast. 

James Cappleman:

My challenge is to respond in that same type of manner so that the other person feels respected. And it’s an area where I could use some more practice. 

Lucy Hancock:

This podcast is the thing that we’ve been missing because it is normalizing leaning in to those conversations and being really brave. This is exactly what our country needs. 

Mónica:

It’s been awesome to hear all your notes and stories so far, not to mention all the encouraging reviews you’ve left of this podcast. They’re our fuel. Thank you. And yes, we are working hard to come back with more episodes later in 2024.

And I know, not a moment too soon, because that election and all the challenges political divisions swirls up in our lives won’t wait. And neither will the opportunities if we can start tackling them in newer, better, braver ways. So, in the meantime, please follow us on social media if you’re there to stay in touch or at “A Braver Way” on a bunch of platforms.

Or you can always drop us a line over email at abraverway@braverangels.org. That’s abraverway@braverangels.org.And I said that email twice because I read every email. I respond just as soon as I can and it’s just really fun to hear from you all. Okay, here’s the episode.

Mónica:

Welcome to “A Braver Way”, a show about how you, yes, you, can disagree about politics without losing heart. I’m Mónica Guzmán, your guide across the divide to help you hear and be heard by people who confound you. We don’t want to be at war in our country. We want to be at home.

So, strap in, because it’s time we learn how to turn up the heat, turn down the fear, and get real about things that matter with more of our fellow Americans than we thought possible.

Hey everyone! Welcome to the tenth and final episode of this first season of “A Braver Way.” We’ve got something really special for you coming up. Four of my favorite people, who also happen to be bridge-building experts; people I learn from, literally, daily are all coming together, right here on this podcast to do something intense.

We’re gonna take five of the toughest questions and concerns you’ve sent in about bridging the political divide and offer the most candid responses we can. Not to defend some zen-like version of bridge building at all times at all costs.

No, no, and no. I hate sugarcoating, I hate pretending. Yes, I believe that hearing and being heard when you disagree is possible when it feels impossible. and usually a lot easier than we think.

But that does not mean that it is always easy. We humans are weird and messy and sometimes scary. There’s no use avoiding that. So let’s open our eyes and face it.

The people you’re about to meet are liberals and conservatives and independents, Trump voters and Biden voters. We do not think alike, this group of us, but we do believe that we all think better together. 

Mónica:

All right, here I am joined by my esteemed panel of friends in bridge building.

We have a couple of fellow podcast hosts. One of them has a podcast called “Derate the Hate”. So I’m going to turn it over to my friend Wilk Wilkinson to say a little bit about why is your podcast called Derate the Hate?

How did you even start it? 

Wilk Wilkinson:

The podcast has been going for I think this will be the fourth year now and being in transportation for so long and being a truck driver, one of the things we see all the time is trucks that will derate and the concept of derate is from the powertrain of the truck will turn it down so it doesn’t destroy. itself. So I just thought derate the hate sounded right. I mean, we need to turn down the hate. We need to tame this toxicity before the toxicity destroys us.

Mónica:

So there’s a lot of people who would agree with you that we need to derate the hate, but would not do as much as you’ve done to try to demonstrate and put into practice these principles. What compelled you to actually do so much about it?

Wilk:

So really, it’s my own personal story. I mean, I used to be pretty toxic in a lot of ways, and I was my biggest victim. Hate is our own poison pill. It brings us down as individuals, and I got sick and tired of being my own worst enemy. So I started on a personal journey to fix myself, and in fixing myself, I started to see the world around me, my world changing. And I thought, why not try to bring those same things that I use for myself to the rest of the world? So we try to better the world one attitude at a time and it all starts with each of us as individuals. 

Mónica:

Our other podcaster who has a podcast called “The hopeful majority,” started coming to this work after witnessing some turmoil. at college. Manu Meel. Tell us about that. 

Manu Meel:

Hey, Móni. So the hopeful majority, essentially I was a pre-med student, so I had like very little interest in politics or democracy or anything like that really. I was following my mom’s path, which was one of, go be a doctor. And I essentially showed up to UC, Berkeley 2016. That was my, that was the first semester and that was just when President Trump had been elected. And then second semester of 2017 we had this speaker by the name of Milo Yiannopoulos come to campus, and he was this like rightwing provocateur showed up to campus and his shtick was like, “I’m gonna rile up people.” 

And that day he showed up and essentially Berkeley had its largest protest since the sixties, since Dr. King came to campus. It led to mass violence across the University, millions of dollars in damages, and it was actually a precursor to what we’re seeing in colleges today. And that essentially, got me thinking about let’s start to create spaces for conversation and dialogue. And what started as just this like tiny little student club turned into, really, a movement of young people that were focused on uniting around a certain temperament, in a mindset to actually listen to each other. And the hopeful majority, I’m totally averse to cheesy names and yet what happened was I was like traveling the country and literally everybody I speak to is saying, “man, I’m so sick and tired of how toxic our politics are. Why can’t we just get along?”

Or why can’t we just solve our problems? Or why can’t we operate in a way in which we can hear each other’s differences? And who wants to be a part of the exhausted majority? And there’s no chance of mobilizing the exhausted majority. And so the thought was there’s a hopeful majority of people out there and that was the start of the podcast.

Mónica :

Woohoo. All right. And of course, you’re also CEO of Bridge USA, which is leading that youth movement campuses all across the country and even high schools. Now, Angel Eduardo has coined something called Star-manning, in and among his various brilliant writings, Angel, tell us what brought you to this

Angel:

I think part of it, it’s a nature nurture thing. The nature part is just a temperament, I get very anxious about people not getting along. I notice, if two of my friends are fighting, that was like an existential crisis for me growing up. Like it really bugged me. I’m like, I don’t understand. Why are you guys doing this?

So there’s that, there’s this desire for peace and just calm and clear communication. That’s just part of my temperament. But then there’s also just this idea of watching mom and dad fighting and realizing that the house is gonna come down if we don’t do something. There’s this compulsion within me to try to do whatever I can to help people communicate better with each other. And it’s not to say at all that I’m a perfect communicator. My wife will tell you that I’m not I’m often not, but I try my best. And it’s always easier to diagnose than to it yourself, 

Mónica :

indeed. You’re also at the fire, which stands for, oh my gosh, I’m blanking on the first one. It’s “Foundation for individual Rights and Expression”. Yes.

Angel:

That’s right. Yeah, 

Mónica :

Right. But tell us what Star-manning is..

Angel:

That’s right Oh, star-manning. That’s right. So Star-manning is a step above steel manning, which is, presenting the most charitable and strongest possible version of your interlocutors argument. Star-manning takes that a step further by trying to present the strongest and most charitable version of your opponent. The person is making the argument by recognizing that they’re a human being and that they have reasons for whatever they’re arguing, whatever it is that they believe. And if you can find those reasons, if you can connect with those reasons on a human level, then you’ll have a common ground from which to build a disagreement and some kind of resolution. We have trouble with that bit. So I just came up with a fancy term for giving people the benefit of the doubt and extending compassion.

Mónica :

And there it is.

All right. And then April, our podcast listeners already know quite well, but April, I don’t know that I’ve ever asked you what personally brought you to this work.

April:

There’s a couple different answers to that. There’s a, surface level answer and a deeper answer. The one answer is that I grew up in a very liberal family in a very conservative place. So I’m from Kansas and so I learned really early to translate between the political language of my house and the political language of my school, like the kids I knew in school and the adults on my sports teams and stuff like that.

And then I went to Yale because I partly ’cause I was trying to get away from conservatives and accidentally ended up becoming one. And so then I was a conservative in a super liberal place and once again, got to practice that skillset. And then this gets into the slightly deeper piece and then I went home to my liberal family and said I’m a conservative.

And sometimes I think, I don’t know, my parents probably would not say this now, but sometimes I think they would rather I was like, I’m pregnant or I’m like, anything , like anything . And because my family is full of people who really believe in things and when those are not the same things, that’s actually kinda challenging, and so…yeah, the deeper answer is that I am someone who believes that when conflict happens, it’s from real places. And I actually used to hate, not hate, that’s a little strong, but like look down…

Mónica :

We’re derating the Hate. April Derate, the..

April:

I know. I was like, Will already used that word. It’s intense . But I used to really be like, ugh, with regard to bridge builders because I guess I associated them with people who push, who like brush the conflict under the rug. And I cannot stand that. I can’t stand it. So I, I really care about the phrase “truth and reconciliation” because …which has a particular meaning in American context. And I’m not trying to invoke that, but I really care about both pieces. I want the truth of where people are and then I wanna get to real reconciliation. I want both of those things and I feel like people lots of voices are interested in one or the other. And I want both. I really do. And I’m committed to the idea that you can have both. You really can. 

Mónica :

All right. To go back to the lovely segue that you teed up.

April:

Aha.

Mónica :

Man, those bridge builders, they shove all the concerns and barriers to this work right under the rug,

Not today. Today we are going through barriers and concerns and questions that listeners of this podcast and others have been sharing. So each of our esteemed panelists has received one of these concerns and barriers and had a chance to reflect on them. We’ll get to those tough listener questions, right after this quick break.

BREAK FOR FIRST SUPPORTING PARTNER

Mónica:

Before we move on, I want to tell you about one of our supporting partners, Let’s See Labs

“Let’s See Labs” is a leadership development program. organization working to transform polarized cultural challenges into fuel for increased empathy, engagement, collaboration, and creativity. How do they do it? Let’s See Labs uses storytelling presented in their programs as short films to showcase real -world examples of liberated leadership in action. These stories show what non -polarizing leadership looks like across race, gender, politics, politics, socioeconomic status, and a lot of other challenging cultural contexts. If you’re curious and committed to challenging preconceived notions, check out their leadership programs at Let’sSeeLabs.com.

Thank you to Let’s See Labs for being a supporting partner of “A Braver Way” and a member of “Braver Network”. To learn more about “Braver Network” and how your organization can join the movement for civic renewal, go to braverangels.org/abraverway.

Mónica :

So I have gone ahead and done the extremely strategic ordering of who’s gonna go first by cutting up pieces of paper. Very sophisticated. And I’m now going to draw one of these pieces of paper to say that the person who will read their barrier and then respond to it is, Manu.

Manu:

What a ritual. It’s like drawing sticks. So should I just jump right into it?

Mónica :

I think jump right in. Yeah. But begin by reading the, the listener note, or for you I think it was something different.

Manu:

Yeah. Will do. Here’s the note that I was passed. And I think it’s one of the most important critiques and also something that Móni, we hear a lot on college campuses And essentially the critique goes this way and it’s something deployed by a writer named Nathan J. Robinson. And it is that here you have the problem at centrist, they won’t call an atrocity because this would be tribal and extreme. They won’t fight to end a horrific injustice. Because the very idea of a horrific injustice has no place in their vocabulary. And there’s an additional version of this, a parallel critique that talks about empty centrism and the fact that a lot of people that are focused on bridge building have no standard but civility by which to judge the merits of both sides. 

In other ways, the ways that, the way that I interpret that critique is one in which it’s essentially, you all are a bunch of squishy moderates and centrist without actually having any strong beliefs. How do you operate in that world? Because there’s no progress in that world. And there’s a couple thoughts I have here and I’m curious what others think. The first is that when we think about bridging work, I think that this is much more about not what we believe, but it’s about how we believe. I think about our politics and the way that our discourse happens as that we’re fighting a battle of temperament and mindset as opposed to a battle of ideological moderation. I don’t, I, I know some of us really well on this podcast, and I’m sure all of us have really strong beliefs.

And yet what unites us is not our ideology, but it’s the fact that we’re willing to engage with open-mindedness and curiosity and a willingness to listen and hear each other. And so rather than thinking about bridge building as meeting in the middle, I think bridge building is about creating the table upon which to have that disagreement.

And then the second thought of this is about injustice and the friction that often occurs between social justice and talking to people that are different than each other. And I think this is where we have to be smart about thinking about what the moment calls for. There’s a time for shifting the “Overton window” and thinking about activism in a sense of pushing ideas forward. And there’s also a time about thinking about creating coalitions and bringing people together and listening. In fact, one of the things that we’ve seen on our campuses in high schools is that the best way to be an advocate for what you believe in is to understand why somebody disagrees with you, because that helps you actually understand the “why”.

Injustice occurs. I think, in a world in which we blot people out. And bridging, I think, is the epitome of shining a spotlight on everybody’s story. And I think that’s actually what moves the page forward. So that, that’s how I think about that critique and I think the primary question is a question, not of, again, pushing centrism, but a question of pushing a temperament that rewards people’s ability to disagree.

Mónica :

Okay. That sings. I saw a lot of nods around the room. Who wants to add on?

Manu:

Classic bridge building fashion. We all disagree with each other too.

Mónica :

Or disagree or push back or bring out more from that concern. ’cause there’s a lot to it.

Angel:

It just leads me to two things, two quick things that I wanna say. I think part of that concern, at least part of it sounds to me to come from this caricatured version of what a centrist is, which I hear all the time. I don’t even consider myself a centrist, but I get accused of it all the time. And accused is the right word because that’s what they mean is, “you’re doing something wrong here.” And the caricature is that if you find any two extremes on any given issue, you will find the centrist directly in the middle as if that, wherever the in-between is, that’s what the right answer is. And that’s absurd. Just like Manu said, we all have strong beliefs. It just depends on what it is. 

Mónica:

I wanna open up a little bit of a thread around the concern or the critique that that line Manu read. And this is from Natalie Wynn, who is an activist and she says that this movement has like no standard but civility by which to judge the merits of both sides. And I really hear that. I do worry sometimes that the bridge building space certainly comes off that way. I wonder if anyone has thoughts on that particular piece that are we able to call an atrocity an atrocity? h 

Wilk:

I’ll take that if I can. One of the things that I think of, first of all, when I think civility, toxicity and stuff, ’cause that’s obviously what I talk about a lot, is civility doesn’t mean, playing pussyfoot with the actual topic itself. Civility means treating the person with respect but tearing apart their, stance on an issue or. Just like the in a conversation I just had with Jonathan Rauch, kill the kill the bad idea. Don’t kill the person. It’s not a matter of being civil about a idea that needs to be wrecked. You can do both. You can treat somebody with humanity like, like Angel talks about quite often. Find the humanity in the person, but then tear apart the concept. And I that’s my thought on it. Civility has nothing to do with not, breaking down and really taking apart the bad idea.

Mónica :

So April, final thoughts on this one?

April:

Just, I wanna challenge this a little, and I know that we’re opening up something we maybe won’t have time to fully flesh out, but I cannot stand some of the aspects of the way that our field communicates because I do think because civility becomes tone policing, and that drives me nuts because I think there are real things that people need to express and that should not be expressed in gentle, civil, polite words.

I think the trick is to, It’s to have the courage and the stamina to be with that. I read something recently about the anger of hope versus the anger of despair. The anger of hope is anger that they do studies with kids that, where kids still trust that the connection can be restored, whereas the anger of despair is when they don’t think so anymore and they’re just lashing out and giving up. And I think we need to be able to see the anger of hope for what it is, and not tone police. I think the deep understanding of civility is what you said, Wilk, that like it’s about the person and that I totally affirm. but I really respect that reader’s reaction. 

Mónica :

Yeah. All right, coming up next is Angel. What you got for us Angel?

Angel:

We have a couple of messages that we got. The first is from a listener named Tom, and he says, “I’d be interested to know how you approach the idea or perception of someone in a debate not as crazy, stupid, or evil, but as insincere, disingenuous, or intellectually dishonest.” And Jay, another listener, has a similar barrier. “It’s hard enough to have enjoyable political conversations, even with people already on your side. So many people are just unreasonable, uncharitable and basically unfair in their political thought. So when they’re on the other side, forget it.” this is something that I come across all the time. Especially because of the star-manning thing, right? People say star-manning doesn’t work because if the other person is not in it with you, if the other person is being dishonest, if the other person is being rude or uncharitable, where can you go from there? And definitely true, right? There’s, you can’t have a conversation by yourself, right?

What is the sound of one hand clapping? But what you can do in those circumstances is ,first of all, ask yourself a question. being unreasonable, they’re being unfair. At least in your perception, in that moment. Why? Why are they doing that? That’s the question. They’re still motivated by something. They must feel that behavior is at the very least justified by whatever it is that they’re trying to accomplish. And whatever that is, if you find it, that’s a way of disarming that engagement. And the other thing you can do is just something that I really enjoy doing is being a confounding variable, being the exception to their rule.

So if they think that, “ my team behaves like this,” I’m not going to do that. I’m going to show them that I’m behaving differently. I’m going to disabuse them of this assumption. I’m going to be the anti stereotype right in front of them. And that means that even if they’re being uncharitable, even if they’re being dishonest, even if they’re being unfair, I’m going to lean into being more charitable and more fair and more honest. And I’m going to call out the fact that I don’t think things are working because it doesn’t seem like this person is reciprocating. So I would just, I would flag it, point it out, and not with an, not with the intention of kind of chastising them, but actually with the intention of saying, don’t you see how this isn’t working? Why don’t we try making it work?

Mónica: 

Dang.

April:

I really like that Just as somebody who spends a lot of time with the word debate, I wanna, offer one thing, which is the program that I, designed at Braver Angels is all about debate. And people tell us all the time, can you please call it something else? Like a conversation, a dialogue…

One person was like communal storytelling. And, I have a belief that it’s important to stick to the word debate because it again, normalizes conflict. But there is also this thing that like has emerged on social media over the last few years, which is ‘debate me, bro’. It’s this it’s a term that people use of under of saying, as baiting people, as like a way of undercutting, like undercutting them before they even enter the conversation. And I also will say, I run into people where I think they’re engaging in an insincere and not good faith at all way. And you are totally right angel. That behaving in a way that begs the question, “but what if we didn’t do that? What if we did this right?” Is beautiful. I will also just say that like I don’t always have the patience for that and I don’t think you have to I think that…

Angel:

That’s right. Yeah.

April:

…we should all do our best, but there are days when you’re, when you have the energy for that and the days when you don’t. And so that said, I think your response is beautiful.

Angel:

Oh that you actually reminded me. I want to add one small thing, which is right on point with what you just said, April, which is that not every conversation needs to be had right now in that moment, and not every conversation needs to be had by you. You’re not always the right person for it in that moment. So keeping that in mind is good too. It’s better to disengage than to engage poorly

Manu:

I would actually emphasize that piece exactly, which is that not only is it that every conversation needs to happen right now, but that every conversation is not a conversation between Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon. What I mean by that is, is that when you ask like the average person Hey let’s have when I walk down the street and we’re like, let’s have a conversation and we’re having a great back and forth dialogue, there’s like a lot of things to talk about that don’t revolve around the four seminal issues that define, our life currently in our politics and actually broaching the depth and diversity of what exists in this wonderful existence is actually fascinating because you realize that then you start to create beachhead for what you think is a crazy person to be able to understand where you’re coming from. And the only other thing I would just add based on what April was saying was that is that oftentimes somebody that shows up in a debate or a dialogue or discussion with a desire to be heard with a deep, sense of veracity is because they’re oftentimes not heard. And to Angel’s point, when you can actually create a space for somebody to simply vent, that’s okay. And not only is that not okay, but that creates a possibility for progress. So again, that’s why I think like the notion of bridge building, people just assume that all we do is every time you have a conversation, it’s two people sit down, you have polite exchange awards, and that’s it. And that’s not at all the case.

Mónica :

I love that. I just wanna underline what you said there about giving people space. We think that people venting is a sign that, oh, everything’s gone horribly wrong. This is no longer productive and cannot go anywhere. Sometimes they just need a witness. They just need a witness. And even if it seems like they’re putting it all on you unfairly, maybe there’s a part of them that knows that is unfair. And so the way that you respond to that or just receive it or frankly just let it blow by. You can be part of that for them. But like April said, not everyone has the patience. Go ahead, Wilk.

Wilk:

One of the things that I just think about, based on what Angel said is, not every time is the right time to engage. I watched a reel the other day where two fighters were in the ring, right? And the one was, in the middle, ready to go, toe to toe. The other guy’s just running around the outside, right? If you’re on the completely different page, it’s not the right time for that fight, you can’t make it happen. You can’t force it if both people aren’t going to engage in the same game. It’s one person playing checkers and the other one making soup. If they’re not, If you’re not doing the other, if you’re not doing the right thing, it’s just not gonna happen.

Wilk:

It’s not gonna be productive. You have to decide this is not the right time to engage. And like you said, Món, maybe that person just needs to vent and maybe you are in that position because you today are gonna be the person that’s gonna…it’s, it’s just sometimes the way it is. 

April:

Yeah. The one thing I would just say is I agree with all of this. The mistake not to make though is don’t write that person off as somebody who’s always insincere or always gonna be this way. And I say this as somebody who like, has totally done that to people. Been like, oh, they just don’t wanna…Fine.They’re not that kind of person. Don’t do that. That’s the one thing is don’t give up on them.

Mónica :

All right. April, you’re at bat.

April:

Oh, okay. so I have a tough one. which is, someone wrote into us and said, “when someone says loudly and explicitly that they, 

A: want to kill people like you and everyone you care about or 

B: are a okay with people who say that, that kind of ends the conversation” 

And relatedly. Someone else wrote in and said, this woman’s name was Emma.

“My greatest fear is that I will perpetuate harm in the desire to be a curious person who doesn’t want to hate in return for hate. And I’m so glad to the folks who wrote in about that because I think that’s, quietly one of the deepest things going on in our politics right now. And, my response to this is pretty personal, which is, I’ve talked a little bit about how I’ve done a lot of work with sexual violence stuff and have some, background with that myself, and also just a lot of what’s called secondary trauma from supporting people who have that set of experiences and , God, it’s the, it’s funny because I’m, I said I’m a conservative, but I’m like a total radical on that particular issue because, but not in a political way. And it’s because there are people, and I swear to you, there are structures that are out there that result in and men, but majority women, not only encountering life altering violence, but being killed, right? And that’s very real and that’s true for lots of different kinds of people. And it is absolutely the case that, People will say either explicitly or they will just say things that lead there that they think that this group or that group should just end, 

And the thing is, I have spent a long time trying to explain this to people who I know have good hearts, but just do not see it. And who will say to me like, yeah, but aren’t there two sides to everything? And that kind of thing. 

And the answer is yes, of course. There are two sides, there are lots of side. Okay. But I just cannot, I can’t somehow I feel like a failure sometimes because I can’t make them see. And what I would say is that I really hear you on, that the conversation, it feels like there’s just nowhere to go. And so I guess the frame that I have found helpful in my own life around this, there are two things. The first is what we were just talking about, that it’s not always you who need to have that conversation right now. but I gotta tell you, , I have sometimes thought that if I can do one thing before I die, it’s that I want to somehow show people who don’t understand what sexual violence is, what it is, because I know that if they could see it, they would love the things I love. They would defend the things that I defend. They would fight for the right things and fight against the right things.

And so the thing that has helped me with that is, believing that it’s a failure of comprehension, not a failure of, love and or loyalty. And I really, I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had where, it just feels like we go over the same ground over and over. I really believe that it’s a failure of comprehension, not a failure of love. One more thing I’ll offer, as that is sometimes useful to me is that, it’s valid to be angry at when there’s a failure of comprehension totally valid, especially when the person in question has power.

I’m a lot harsher on people who have power than people who don’t. Because the responsibility’s there, whether or not they have the character and information to meet it. That said, I also know that people can’t know what they don’t know. And there is such a thing in my mind as like innocent ignorance and there are probably things that I don’t know. So with regard to the dehumanizing piece, the hard question I would invite you to ask yourself if this is if you don’t even wanna follow me this far, is there a group of people that you might not see also?

And for some people that’s, violent people. For other people it’s unborn children. For some people it’s, people of color, people who have behaved in certain ways. And so I just think that there’s almost no one I can think of where there’s not a question to be asked there. And so I used to be pro-choice. I used to not see unborn children as people. And and I think probably a lot of people, I know there are people in this, on this call who who don’t view it that way. And I’m not trying to make an argument, but there is usually you have sometimes been the person who didn’t comprehend. That’s all I’m really trying to say. But I really wanna honor the difficulty there.

Manu:

I really appreciated your thought there April. And I think, when you think about it as being a failure of comprehension instead of failure of love, there’s a certain sense of grace that you give to people. You almost give people the chance to be better. The question that I would actually ask, and this is just thinking about it from a slightly sort of adjacent angle, is I’ve started having a little bit more hard love for that type of question because I understand where it comes from. But here’s the question I would ask people in return is not whether or not you should have a conversation with somebody that believes that a certain group should not exist. But the question I would ask them is, what happens if you don’t? 

That, I’m actually very curious about that. I really am curious what if we do live in a world, okay, fine, let’s snap our fingers. We will not have conversations with anybody that we, that believes that a certain group of people shouldn’t exist. I think very quickly you’re gonna end up in a race to the end where it’s complete stalemate. And so that, that’s actually what I it’s not a fully formed thought, but it’s something I’ve been thinking more recently about is what happens if you don’t have that conversation. That’s what I think about.

Wilk:

Manu makes such a phenomenal point. It, reminds me of a couple of different conversations that I’ve had on the podcast, with angel and i’s common friend Daryl Davis, and then his friend, Jeff Schoep, who was the former head of the National Socialist Movement. Jeff Schoep led the National Socialist Movement, the American Nazis for two decades. And in the many conversations that I’ve had with him, one of the biggest things is the biggest barrier that continues to keep us apart is people’s unwillingness to even have that conversation. Daryl Davis talks about that too. These people, that, that are filled with hate and they do, ascribed to a evil ideology. But with, by, by just keeping them in your mind as a monster and not realizing that’s a human being and that in order to even hope that they will see the light at some point in time, you have to have that conversation. And I think that’s an incredibly important point, is we can just write that group off as evil monsters and hope they all die tomorrow. It’s not gonna happen. If we don’t actually have the conversation, like Manu said, what happens if we don’t?

Mónica :

Yeah. Yeah. cause this was a question about it being afraid of causing harm, but I think a lot of people forget that how much harm there is. When we stop having conversations, when we all the trust dries up. Angel, go ahead.

Angel:

What Wilk is pointing to is actually a mirror image the problem April brought up, which is if there are people who don’t want you to exist and they refuse to engage with you because they don’t want you to exist, and you decide I’m, I refuse to engage with them and I don’t want them to exist, what have you just done? You’ve created more people in the world who want this whole other group of people not to exist. And it’s, that seems self-defeating to me. So the harm is real and it’s an impossibly difficult thing. 

April:

I am really sorry. but I really wanna say one more thing and Angela, I didn’t mean to cut you off if you…

Angel:

No. Go for it.

April:

Just because IF. Forgive me. I find this a little bit triggering only because and this is again coming from the I used to really have trouble with bridge builders because I think there’s and Angel, I know you didn’t mean to suggest this, but the advocate in me says there is a difference between, refusing to talk to somebody who, whose ideas lead to your personal and to just the tragedies that happen to you and people, and that person’s belief system. And so I just wanna be careful with like equivalence, and I know you weren’t trying to equivalent make those 

Angel:

No, you’re right. Yeah, 

April:

…it’s important to me to say that they’re not, and it’s also important to me to say, what if they are monsters?

And that’s a, forgive me for the intensity, but I recently had a conversation with someone about the New York Times article about the sexual violence on October 7th. And what she said to me on the phone was. They’re worse than monsters. This is evil. This is just evil. And I just wanna acknowledge that, like that is real in the world. And so there is a human, I’m not just, of course, I don’t disagree that like we should talk anyway or like through it or around it or, ultimately believe that there is hope, but I just had to say that. 

Mónica :

Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I just wanted to say that I really believe that a world that knows how to engage in the hardest contexts can prevent the evil much better than a world that, that doesn’t know how to do that. It’s true that the evil exists, and maybe it’s naive to think that we can, I don’t think we can prevent it all. I’m sure we can’t prevent it all,

Angel:

No.

Mónica :

…but I know that when people feel seen and heard, hate is a lot harder.

Manu:

And Móni, I know exactly what April’s saying because I have had experience with people that are personally at risk because of being in a conversation with somebody else. And this is also the role of allies. The funniest thing to me is when I hear a white person asking me whether or not they should be able to talk to a racist white person, I had this, when we first started our bridge chapter. We, we had this student come up to us and we say, he asked, “Do you advocate for black people to talk to people that don’t believe that they should exist?”

My question was, I actually believe as April’s saying that it’s important to create space where you, not everybody has to have the conversation, but what about the white allies? ‘Cause somebody’s gotta talk. ‘ cause if nobody’s reaching that person, then alienation isolation is when wounds fester and when evil festers. So I would also just interject the role of allies in this conversation.

Mónica :

Yeah. Obviously we could talk about this barrier a lot longer, and it is deep. So April, thank you for sharing something so personal on that one. And thank you again to the listeners who brought that up. That’s, I think we all have struggled with that question. All these questions are ones that I think there are no final answers to.We keep struggling. 

I have drawn my name next.

So my barrier came up in a note from a listener named Ken who says, “it always feels incredibly invalidating to be consistently told that I’m not oppressed enough to matter. I’m not oppressed enough for my opinion to be valid. I’m a white man, but I am gay. I got into politics to advocate for marriage equality. I hate, I even have to bring that up.”

So to me, there’s a lot of concerns in there. And I’m gonna set aside, there’s a live debate about hierarchies of power and oppression that is very hot right now. And I’m not gonna address that because what we’re here to do is to talk about the sort of broader barriers to, crossing divides. And the broad barrier I see here is invalidation. Before you’ve opened your mouth, you have been branded as something about your who you are. Been put in a box. That box belongs in a certain place in the hierarchy of people who ought to be heard, and you’re just not there. For this person in this place or that person in that context, I think you can travel the country, go to some more conservative places, some more liberal places, some more urban rural places. Whatever it is, will be almost like a certain sort of order that people might have and ways that they have decided that groups relate and people who they think matter more and.. Right? And so the concern I see here is why should I even open my mouth, because somebody has already decided that what I have to say doesn’t matter.

But I think that there are lots of different ways that we do this to each other. And it reminds me of something another listener wrote in. It’s tangential, but also related. And this is a person who has basically lost her relationship with her son over political estrangement. And she says, “engaging in politically diverse subjects with my son ended up in an estrangement situation. I’m prohibited from having a relationship with my grandsons once I was determined by him to be a ‘libtard’. There has been no turning back, no going back. This nightmare has gone on close to three years now. And I see, I do not see hope in sight.”

“I truly wish,” she said, “I would never have uttered an opinion on anything controversial.” She says, “there are people so unbending in their thinking that to offer any opposing ideas puts you in a box named enemy that you will not escape. It’s best to stay clear of these people.”

So yeah, it’s a big one. And I so relate. I think that there are folks who, you know, whether it’s out of fear, a sense of protection, a sense of threat do have judgments quite ready and quite ready to pounce. And it is extremely difficult sometimes for people to want to hear or even get to know an individual underneath some kind of label, underneath some kind of group. so if you open your mouth, if you get honest, the other person may not really hear you or accept you So the things that I think of have already come up in this conversation, one is the power of presence. I’ve been saying a little bit lately that sometimes the best way to argue against someone who believes you shouldn’t exist is to continue to exist in their presence. and there’s a, there’s a tension that I think we all can see in the world between being safe and being seen. But if you, if no one like you has ever seen, then the stereotypes will only continue and it will only get worse and the box will be worse.

And who, who is gonna be able to do that? And I go back to what Angel was saying, which was really beautiful about being the confounding variable But again, as has been said, it’s difficult. Not everyone has the patience. you don’t put yourself in view, the world can’t reflect your view. That’s pretty tough.

Angel:

That’s a much better way of articulating what I was trying to say earlier.

Mónica :

I thought what you were trying to say was great!

April:

You’ve said it beautifully

Mónica :

Yes, you did.

Angel:

No, because I think, not to bring it back to the other topic, but I think that the objection that April had is fair, and it’s a good one, and it’s difficult. and it speaks to this because I think it’s part of the problem here, is how much of our relationships have become purely about agreeing on things rather than a more fundamental and deeper relationship. Like I’m thinking about, and this speaks also to the civility thing and the difference between how it’s perceived and what it actually is. I argue with my siblings all the time. We get really into, debating about a movie or something stupid, or something really important political stuff. We’ll really get into it. We’re raising our voices. We’re super intense. We’re leaning over the table. But there’s not a moment in any of those exchanges where I don’t think, and don’t feel and can’t say, I love you. Even though I’m super heated, and even though I’m super frustrated and I’m trying to get through, and I’m trying to argue this point, I still love them. And I think that’s missing for a lot of people. And when it comes to strangers, it’s about establishing that and building that and saying, I see you as a human being and I respect you fundamentally on that basis. And when it’s somebody, when it’s like family, it’s about recognizing, you’re my mother, you’re my son, and I love you, and we have something beyond this and besides this that we can ground ourselves in. So then this thing doesn’t become so huge.

Wilk:

I think this is one of the great casualties of, and I think this is a word, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard somebody use it identitarianism, right? Is, the whole idea of being put in a box, and I’ve talked about that too, but this is a different context. Is when people start to see each of us not as individuals, the humanity in each of us but start to place us in a group. And that group identity becomes everything they know about us, they start to lose sight of us as an individual. Like Angel was talking about with his siblings. They lose sight of us as an individual and start to lump us in with all the other people that have that identity and lose sight of our personal characteristics, our individual characteristics. And then the disgust and animosity they have for that group then becomes projected onto us. We’re no longer that individual, just like you talked about Móni. 

Mónica :

You’re almost unseen. You’re unseen.

Wilk:

You’re unseen that’s what you talk about invalidation, right? Why should I even open my mouth if this person does not see me anymore as the individual person that I am? But I’m just this conservative, or I’m just this gay white male, I no longer have my individual identity. I don’t even have the room to talk anymore because they aren’t seen past that box.

Mónica :

Alright. And now we are moving to Wilk. Take us home with our last barrier.

Wilk:

All right. So this barrier comes to us from a listener named John who brings something out that’s very dear to my heart because like I said I used to be very angry in a lot of ways at a lot of things, right? And he says, “being a moderator or a kind soul is a great thing. But when we are faced with radical authoritarianism that is getting worse by the minute, we all need to be ringing the alarm bells and getting ready for whatever radical craziness and potential violence the radicals are going to throw at us next. Our nation is being threatened from the inside, and I, for one, am not going to put up with it”

Mónica :

Okay. Before we go on, I wanna ask everyone, do you think that’s coming from the right or the left? 

Mónica :

I see April shaking her head. 

April:

It really could be either. I would guess. Typically authoritarianism is used in to talk about Trump and ex, but it can also be the leftist orthodoxies.

Mónica :

Yeah. Any other, any other guesses? I’ve seen a lot of shaking heads.

Angel:

I’ve heard, I’ve literally heard that exact sentiment from both ends, so

Mónica :

This happened to come from the right, he was talking about radical liberals, but it could come. We have heard it from both sides. All right. Continue Wilk.

Wilk:

And that’s the thing, for me, when I look at this and I see it I can see it from both sides because I’ve heard it from both sides. I think every single one of us as Americans, need to be concerned about authoritarianism, right? Because I, and not to use one of the most in my opinion, one of the most overused phrases of the day. Authoritarianism is an actual existential threat to our country because with authoritarian, we have no place else in this world to go go to, to go back to the Reagan quote, right? There is no place left to go. So authoritarianism is something that we all need to be concerned about, but it is the, outrage entrepreneurs and those conflict, grievance, grifters, people that are trying to drive home this thing that we are facing authoritarianism every time something doesn’t go our way, and it’s just not the case. Every time the government does something that doesn’t comport with our particular lifestyle, doesn’t mean they’re authoritarian. So we need to kinda look at this from a number of different angles, right? So we need to look at the stuff that we are consuming. We need to look at the information I. That we consume, where we get it from, and how much of it is actually valid, and how much of that is put forth into our laps by people who have a vested interest in keeping us separated. I’m not going to deny because I am one that over the course of my life has done a lot of screaming at the rooftops, The authoritarians are coming, the authoritarians are coming, right? I’ve been in that boat. I know what that’s like. I know what that feels like. I know that visceral reaction that comes out of our …

Mónica :

What does that feel like? Wilk. Can you describe that?

Wilk:

it’s sickening. It’s, for me, it’s so sickening because I am I’m one of the biggest individual liberty guys that you’ll probably ever meet. And the idea that somebody is going to rob me of my liberties is as painful as any of the more than several broken bones that I’ve ever had., I talk about violence I know about violence, I know about pain and that pain… And most of it goes back to what I said at the beginning. Most of that pain is self-inflicted because what we choose to consume and then how we choose to react to what we are consuming is often our poison pill. It is often what is our undoing it is the thing. I understand this statement so much. I feel this statement so much. I can, I. I think of a thousand times when I’ve just sat there and thought those same thoughts, and then…

Mónica :

And yeah. What led you through, right?

Wilk:

There’s a couple things, right? Is, for me it’s a serenity prayer. Is a big one for me. How do I make it through this using logic and common sense versus my, emotions, right? When I’m currently going through the book, “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Jonathan Haidt  and Greg Lukianoff, right? Choosing to have a logical response over an emotional response is always a good start. And so it’s really one of these things is shut off the news, shut off the news. Get off social media, talk to your neighbor. We are not nearly as divided as some would have you believe. And most of the time these emotional triggers that are getting people worked up about authoritarianism probably aren’t nearly as valid as people would have you believe it’s that troll epistemology that Jonathan Rauch talks about, right? These people are using this emotional trigger to send us off in a horrible direction. 

April:

Thank you, Wilke, for sharing that. you’ve walked that walk. I can tell. I’m a really different, I think, kind of person in some ways. Perhaps in that, when you said choosing logic over emotion, like in my world, people are too logical often and they don’t get the heart part. And so I’m gonna give a very different kind of perspective on that. I think what you said is beautiful and really right. I would also just say though that like my response to, as somebody who thinks that like authoritarianism is a very real threat, what that says to me is we need to get serious about addressing it. And I would make a strongly felt case that the best way to address it is alarm bells are easy, right? Social media is like practically only alarm bells And the thing that’s hard is living in a society and moving people, like masses of people to be different, believe different, act different, be open.

And so I would just argue that for somebody who thinks that like the country is in some real danger, which like I said I do to me what that says is, let’s get serious about it. But I think my personal belief is that getting serious about it means, doing something other than ringing alarm bells, actually it means frankly something harder, which is trying to get in the trenches and have the conversations that are all of our day jobs. And, that’s a, maybe a self-serving answer, but it’s also why I’m in this field. And so I mean it and so I mean it.

Angel:

I think April’s dead on. I think part of the problem here is that if the alarm is ringing all the time, there’s no such thing as an alarm anymore. It’s important for us to realize that if our cause is really, truly righteous and the stakes really are as high as we’re saying, that’s all the more reason to be allergic to hyperbole and dishonesty and that kind of thing because the stakes are so high, you don’t wanna screw this up. You wanna be as calm and reasoned as you can and approach it as dispassionately as you can so that you don’t make these terrible mistakes. 

Manu:

It’s so interesting. The strongest predictor of authoritarianism is not party ideology, it’s temperament and behavior and mindset. There have been just as many left-wing authoritarians in history as there have been, right-wing authoritarians in history. The reason why I say that is because the way that we think about this threat is that oftentimes the people that I think that are at most risk of authoritarianism think that they’re fighting authoritarianism. 

I don’t see authoritarians run around the streets when I’m on an airplane or having a conversation. If you were to just ask me how at risk is the United States of authoritarianism, and my only variable to base that off of was my everyday conversations, I would say zero. If you asked me how at risk of authoritarianism are we by just studying Twitter, I would say like, we’re a 9 outta 10. And so the only piece I would just add here is that. In your fight for authoritarianism, don’t become an authoritarian.

Angel:

Animal Farm Read. Animal Farm

Mónica :

There you go. Read All the speculative case studies that we’ve tried to warn ourselves about, 

Mónica :

Warn us ourselves about it reminds me of what April said earlier in another topic about, when there’s very few of us who are not seeing someone or some group of people. 

Mónica :

Before we move on, let me take a moment to tell you about something really cool coming up: the annual Braver Angels Convention. I attended with my entire family last year in Gettysburg, husband, kids, parents, the works. I even sang a song on stage with my dad. And it’s so hard to describe how refreshing it was at the convention to be surrounded by an equal number of political reds and blues and so many independents, all committed to sharing and hearing different views fully, freely and without fear. fear, and treating people who disagree with honesty, dignity, and respect. That’s the braver way. 

And this year, with an election coming ever closer, we need a lot more of it. If you agree and wanna be a bigger part of this movement, don’t wait, sign up to join us this summer for the 2024 Braver Angels National Convention in Kenosha, Wisconsin. From June 27th through 29th, in the midst of this election year, hundreds of reds and blues and independents will come together on equal terms to debate, find common ground where it exists, and forge a better path forward for a braver America. Don’t miss out. Head to braverangels.org /abraverway and check out our show notes for a link to apply to attend. I’ll see you there. 

Mónica :

All right I’ll just be super frank on this. All of us here have done a lot of these kinds of conversations. And often a question that we get at the end is, “where do you see hope?” So instead of just asking that question, I have asked each of you to bring something from the wider world way beyond our bridge building world. Has left you with a feeling that you’ve connected somehow to the work and has left you with a feeling like “we might be all right.”

Every time I watch movies or hear music or whatever it is, I feel like I see bridge building everywhere ’cause it is so in me. so I’m gonna once again draw a paper and see who gets to share those first. So Wilk.

Wilk:

Nice. So you know. any, anybody who knows me knows that I’m not really your typical pop culture kind of person. But the first thing that came to my mind was, Kirk Cousins. So the Minnesota Vikings, their season’s over and their season was really over very early in the season because Kirk Cousins blew out his Achilles tendon. And I’ve been a Vikings fan since I was a little kid. And which has been very hard over the course of, 40 some years of disappointment…

Angel:

Yeah, pain, you said, pain. There you go.

Wilk:

But I’ve seen so many of my “heroes.” just this main figurehead in a team, they’ll get hurt and then they disappear. They’re just not, they’re just, they’re not on the sidelines. but one of the things that truly impressed me about Kirk Cousins is he blew out his achilles tendon. He knew his season was over. He knew that he made it play, never played another down with the Minnesota Vikings again, but it wasn’t even a couple days after the thing happened. He’s down there at the practice facility. He’s still going and doing what a, what the captain of this team would do. He’s inspiring his teammates.

So, I truly believe that we need to be the change what we wanna see in the world, right? And Kirk Cousins showed me that this year. That, that’s one of the things that, that I think more people, especially people that, that have a following people that, people that that others look up to be that change,

Mónica :

Go Kirk cousins. When you said the name, I was like, who’s that? I have no idea. I, it’s all sports ball to me Wilke, so I appreciate the education. That is awesome.

Wilk:

yeah. The quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings are, hopefully he’s back

Mónica :

Very cool. Go Kirk Cousins. All I am up next. And the song that so many people have not been able to get out of their head for what, two years, Taylor Swift, thanks to my children, I am now a “Swifty.” Ugh. I went and saw the concert film and I went in so reluctantly I was like, I gotta be here. ’cause my kids wanted to come. And by the end of those three hours I had cried. I had laughed the song Off Her. I know the song Off her Midnights album that’s called “Anti-Hero,” which anyone on social media has certainly seen the memes. (sings) It’s me. Hi, I’m the Problem. It’s me.

This is a song that is all somebody looking within themselves and trying to understand some of the things that have been hard in their lives as like maybe something they’ve been implicated in. And the thing that, one of the reactions I’ve had, because I tie everything back to bridge building, is. It’s so often the case that we blame others for the problems in our country and for the polarization and the division, but it’s me. Hi, I’m the problem, it’s me. And that’s not actually necessarily a depressing thing.

There’s a quote that somebody I dunno, said to me once that, you are not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution. That being part of the problem is what qualifies you with the experience to get through it. So the fact that there are so many songs and go to Lizzo, go to Billie Eilish, there’s a lot going on in our culture about people looking inward, getting awareness and all these things. So my, that actually leaves me with a little bit of hope that, yeah, if we can see our own individual part of this problem, then we can maybe work our way through it. So, Manu, you’re up.

Manu:

Okay, so I’m incredibly disappointed in this because one, the fact that Wilke chose Kirk Cousins as a pop cultural reference demonstrates the NFL-centric worldview in which you operate. And two that, is that Mónica  stole my example. 

Mónica :

I did. 

Manu:

I was literally gonna say Taylor Swift. 

Mónica:

Which she has a lot of songs. 

Manu:

I didn’t realize how she, … I had a different I had a different reason for Taylor Swift, which is she like shows up and 70,000 people descend on a town with totally different beliefs and ideas. And she’s built like this identity above politics, which in some ways is I think what we’re actually trying to do. But I came up with another example while you were, while I was steaming about the Taylor Swift steal, which is, I dunno if anybody has heard of the movie Napoleon, but the universal hatred and critique that movie received gives me hope and humanity because it’s an example of the fact that we have the capacity to be cultural critics and operate with a sense of objectivity about the world. And sometimes we’re not wearing red and blue glasses. Because that film was atrocious and,

April:

It was,

Mónica :

Gotta see it.

Manu:

And that is my answer.

Mónica:

Angel

Angel:

Nobody stole my idea I was wondering what to share and there’s so much that I can share because I think. I’ll shout out to Chloé Valdary, her whole project with her business called “Theory of Enchantment,” is that popular culture shows us that we’re not as divided as we think we are because our love of and resonance with all this different popular culture, it speaks to something deeper than our political identities or our, identity identities. But anyway, I’m a huge Superman fan. And people think that he’s corny because he’s so good. And they think that he’s boring. The stories are boring because he has all these powers, but they don’t get what makes him great To me, Superman is this, he has this unfathomable power, right? If he really wanted to, he could conquer the world in a day, and he could rule it forever, and there’s nothing anybody could do about it. But all he wants to do is help people. Why? There, there’s the, in the original 1978 movie, there’s a, the first time he encounters Lois Lane, he saves her from falling, and she asks, who are you? And his reply is really simple. He doesn’t say, I am, I’m the hero. I am, I’m your greatest protector. I’m Superman. He says, A friend.

And it clicked in my head many years ago, that we have the same mission. We want to use our powers for good. We want to be a friend to humanity. And Superman’s true power is not strength or, lasers from his eyeballs or flying, or it’s his humanity, his capacity to inspire and his desire and his decision to model and to embody the best of what we can be. And there’s a great line from the comics that says, the symbol for the house of El means hope and embodied within that hope, is a fundamental belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good. 

That’s what gives me hope, because that’s a human thing. That’s humanity. 

Mónica:

Dang. I gotta go watch Superman again. It’s been a long time.

Angel:

Oh, please do. It’s the best.

Mónica :

Oh wow. That’s awesome. April

April:

I was gonna…Yeah, same. I do have to say if our creations reflect us, what does that say about the fact that everyone’s obsessed with “Succession”? I don’t really know. But anyway…

Angel:

We contain multitudes. Yeah. 

April:

Yes, we sure do. Also, I will just share something that like, I feel like this call humor is the answer. So there’s a thing that I need to confess to you all. One or two of you already know this. Yes. Móni’s already laughing, which is that, I have moved to Los Angeles and clearly gone nuts because I, somebody tricked me basically into joining a class in how to be a clown. And this is a secret from most people in my life, and I don’t know why I’m announcing it on air. It’s probably a mistake. What I will just say is, I’m terrible at this. I identify as unfunny, and I’m particularly bad at physical comedy and this is just bad in all sorts of directions. 

But what I’ll say is that humor is, I feel like there’s a class that a friend of mine that I like almost took. But there’s a different class at the same time in how to be a clown that I’m taking instead about what it means to be a jester. the definition that I heard of a jester is somebody who, so you have a king, right? who’s just furious and is gonna send an army to destroy a neighboring country. And the counselors have tried to talk to him, the diplomats have tried to talk to him, his wife has tried to talk to him. Nobody’s gotten through. And so they send in the jester, right? And the jester’s job is to, look dumb and to reflect and yet to reflect back at the king the truth in a way that is sufficiently unthreatening that he can hear it.

And that the jester knows that he’s succeeded if the king doesn’t. Invade the neighboring country and if he fails, the king gets angrier and he’s executed. So there’s a very high wire act that we’re playing at in some ways. But I think that our culture to the point about authoritarianism is ripe for really good humor.

And I guess the one other thing I’ll say about that is so clowns and jesters is what gives me hope at the moment. The thing I’ll say about that is that I like used the word triggered earlier and I meant it, like my heart rate has like spiked and I like, I’ve been coming down since this, but it wasn’t until Manu said all that ridiculous stuff, then I just got to laugh with you.

Manu:

And that’s our Like real life interaction too. That’s how we really interact as well.

Mónica :

Humor heals.

April:

So, humor. That’s I think part of why we end on hope and Móni, thank you for giving Manu a platform to make us all laugh.

Mónica :

Absolutely.

Manu:

On the humor thing. Also, the other thing about humor is everybody takes themselves too damn seriously. And part of humor is like when you can just make fun of yourself and make fun of everybody else, and you collectively just, it’s just a, it’s just a fun fest. It’s it’s the only way to get through. So thank you April for justifying why I came on to this podcast. 

Mónica :

There you go.

(music up and under)

So this music you’re hearing right now and a bunch of what you’ve been hearing throughout this whole season Those of you who pay attention to our credits each episode already know it’s by our artist -in -residence the one and only Gangstagrass. I can’t tell you how pumped I was and they agreed to partner with us for this podcast. I first heard of them when I learned that they were coming to Gettysburg for our big convention last year. I opened Spotify right there at my desk, I played a track, and whoa. I thought bluegrass and hip -hop were totally separate, never the twain shall we eat.

Just like reds and blues these days I guess. I’ll stay on my side, you stay on yours. But Gangstagrass unites the beats and bars of hip -hop, with the banjos and fiddles of bluegrass, into this whole new style with so much more than the sum of its parts. And it kind of feels like it was always there, just waiting. I played another track, another, and I couldn’t hear it without feeling some hope for everything that feels so separate, but that we know if we can really hear it, that it’s not. So then I really geeked out, ordered a band t -shirt online, brought it to the convention, danced like a crazy person with my kids, while Gangstagrass did their thing on stage, shook hands with R-SON and Brian, said hey to their manager, Sleevs, and I dared to ask if they would consider lending their rhythm to this new podcast I was working on. 

And here we are. Check them out and hear more of this awesome music at Gangstagrass.com

But you know, why wait? Today I’m going to send you brave souls back to your worlds with a song…by Gangstagrass! It’s from their 2020 album “No Time for Enemies”, which reached number one on the Billboard Bluegrass chart. The song is called “Do Better”, and I think it’s the perfect way to cap off this first season of “A Braver Way”.

♪ We all do better when we all do better ♪ ♪ Gangstagrass, big brand ♪ ♪ Can’t get better than that ♪ ♪ Check the raison d ‘etre is to make songs better ♪ ♪ And take on the effort of doing the utmost ♪ ♪ ‘Cause way too many humans are cutthroat ♪ ♪ So much stuff that they’re doing just so ♪ ♪ They can get it in and get over on the next man ♪ ♪ I’m here to elevate and navigate like a sextant ♪ ♪ So we’re cruising through the weather ♪ ♪ Anything you can do, my crew can do it better ♪ ♪ Make songs for you to groove to forever, whatever ♪ ♪ ♪ Units you choose to measure ♪ ♪ Night after night, day after day ♪ ♪ You bet we’ll get you lifted in the Gangstagrass way ♪ ♪ Aloha ♪ – 

(music under)

Mónica:

“A Braver Way” is a production of “Braver Angels.” We get financial support from the M .J. Murdoch Charitable Trust and Reclaim Curiosity and count USA Facts as a proud sponsor. 

Our senior producer and editor is David Albright. Our producer is Jessica Jones. – “A Braver Way” is a production of “Braver Angels.” Our theme music is, as you know, by the fantastic number one billboard bluegrass -charting hip -hop band Gangstagrass. A special thanks to Ben Caron, Don Goldberg, Mike Cassantini, and April Lawson. 

I’m your host and guide across the divide, Mónica  Guzmán. Take heart, everyone. Thank you for your courage. Till next time. 

(upbeat music) 

…The elders used to say that if you knew better, you’d do better and that’s why we do it together. The powers that be wish that me and you’d sever any ties keep us joined that help us make it new Whether. Or not we got a paper  stack of really huge cheddar. Over a bunch of certified alphabet soup leathers. We can’t cooperate, collaborate, or get hit by a bus [unintelligible] Not to lift us up highest one the virtue of a nation is increased by example of the treatment and extends to the least of us is the value of a life governed by the greedy or determined to heal the sick and feed the needy if we reach to our neighbor when the storm is wreaking havoc then we each have a better chance of bending off the damage that’s a demonstrated fact come together as a pack and it ain’t nothing wrong with that and that’s that ♪ Can’t get better than that ♪ ♪ Here we all do better when we all do better ♪ ♪ Can’t get better than that ♪ ♪ ‘Cause we all do better when we all do better ♪ ♪ Can’t get better than that ♪ ♪ Here we all do better when we all do better ♪ ♪ Can’t get better than that ♪ ♪ ‘Cause we all do better when we all do better ♪ (upbeat music)

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