Jade was eleven years old when she stumbled into the Internet subculture of punk rock: a world where edgy fashion, intricate art, aggressive music, and far-left politics intertwine. At a time when her home life felt out of control, this online community became her refuge. “I was always someone who thought pretty deeply about the world,” Jade said. “The extreme left seemed to have answers for me.”
Online, she not only found a way to understand the world but also a cause: enforcing far-left political beliefs. Like her tribe, she was intolerant of views even slightly to her political right. “I just wanted to be seen as extreme, as a warrior,” Jade said. “I loved picking fights. I was not open to having any discussions.” And that defined the way she approached politics: “You must agree with me, or I will throw a tantrum.”
“You must agree with me, or I will throw a tantrum.”
But Jade began to question her strong convictions during her studies in Denver, where she landed a job working with refugees and asylum seekers. “I thought I had everything figured out and considered myself an advocate on their behalf,” Jade said. But she soon found out that they didn’t always agree—sometimes differing on LGBT rights and the role of religion in society. “I was surprised they didn’t share those worldviews.”
Expecting allies, Jade was confronted with the limitations of her closed-minded approach. “It was a culture shock,” she said. “But I couldn’t be intolerant if I wanted to get to know them.” Instead, she needed to open herself up to a new way of thinking.
After college, Jade served in the Peace Corps, which only reinforced the importance of listening and diversity of thought. “When I went to the Peace Corps, I was forced to accept that I was in a separate culture,” Jade said. Just like when she worked with refugees and asylum seekers, Jade was working with people from a different part of the world, who had another way of navigating it. “Even if I disagreed with their way of doing something, I had to do it that way because it was their country,” she said. “I was just a guest.” And that changed the way Jade engaged in politics. “Here, I realized that I was scary and militant and won a lot of battles, but I won’t succeed in life unless I listen.”
“I was scary and militant and won a lot of battles, but I came to realize I won’t succeed in life unless I listen.”
Back home in New York, Jade found Braver Angels. At this point—due a series of experiences, particularly a career in social work—her political views shifted closer to the political center. Once shutting down those who disagreed with her, Jade was now nervous to open up and share how her own perspectives had changed. Because of this, Braver Angels’ commitment to bridging political divides resonated with her. The aftermath of 2020—and the divisions over politics, protests, and the pandemic—only emphasized the need for more listening. That’s when Jade became a warrior for a new mission: fostering understanding across differences.
Jade’s involvement with Braver Angels has been a cathartic experience, a way to make amends for past mistakes. “I feel a lot of guilt for some of my behavior in the past. I feel bad for all the people that I made scared to feel who they are,” Jade said. “It motivated me to reach out and do something good.”
“I don’t feel scared anymore to be who I am.”
At Braver Angels, Jade found not only a platform for dialogue but also a path to personal redemption. She dismantled the negativity of her past approach, embracing a more open and understanding mindset. Braver Angels empowered Jade to be more confident in her beliefs, accepting of others, and, most importantly, accepting of herself. “I don’t feel scared to be who I am anymore,” she said.
Jade isn’t alone in being drawn into the deceptive power of polarization. “I have lost friends and experienced challenges in my social and professional life because my political beliefs were different from those around me,” she said. But for Jade, Braver Angels serves as a beacon of hope that people can come together, learn from each other, and understand one another—no matter their political beliefs. “It is super powerful to be in a space where we’re kind and just listen,” Jade said “This dismantles the hostile approach.” And that just may be our only way through this polarization.