“What keeps us from really seeing each other?”

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On the morning of Election Day 2020, I was driving east from Seattle to my parents’ house in Redmond, Washington, wondering if I should turn around.

About a week earlier, I’d asked my parents if I could watch the results of the presidential election from their house. Mom blinked over her plate of carnitas tacos from the food truck down the way. She looked at Dad, then back at me.

Claro, Moni,” she said in Spanish. Of course, Moni. Then her eyes held mine a moment, asking what I was silently asking myself: But are you sure you want to?

After all, I’m a liberal who voted for Joe Biden, and Mom and Dad are conservatives who voted enthusiastically—and twice, now—for Donald Trump.

I drove their way in silence, my hands gripping the steering wheel of the sturdy 2004 black Nissan Altima they sold me for a dollar when my Civic felt too clunky for our kids, a mere four months before Trump’s 2016 victory shook the world.

I preferred the too-loud rumble of the Altima’s wheels on the road to any music that could make the day feel too normal. Would my parents end the day happy and relieved, or would I? Who would feel at home in our country tomorrow?

***

That is how I begin my new book: I Never Thought of It That Way: How To Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times.

The book, which is inspired deeply by the work we do together at Braver Angels, comes out March 8 — this Tuesday — which still (AH!) feels unreal. It shares the stories, tools, and techniques I’ve gathered over the past few years scouting our political divide and agitating over one question:

What keeps us from really seeing each other, and how do we get it out of our way?

I’m telling you this because you’re at the heart of this book. Every one of you who knows that this toxicity isn’t acceptable, who still has hope, even if you don’t know what will come of it. If you’re here, you and I have something profound in common. We reject the brokenness surrounding us. We hear that coming together is impossible and we’re coming together anyway.

Why? So we can keep the relationships that mean something to us. So we can see people instead of monsters, possibilities instead of disasters. And so we can approach true disagreement in our society as an invitation, not a tragedy. While others put their divergent opinions into battle, we’ll put them into conversation.

Even heated, tricky, messy conversation? When we’re up for it — absolutely.

It is so much easier to talk about people who disagree with us than with them. But there’s no other way when we’re this polarized, I’ve realized, to let our real perspectives check, challenge, and enrich one another. Nor is there any other way to look past our perspectives to the experiences and values that shaped them — the paths different people walk to their views.

To see people where they are, we have to see where they’re coming from. It gives us our chance to choose where we’re going.

Can we solve that mystery from a distance? No. That’s why I spent election night with my parents, drowning out Fox News and CNN with loud debates on law enforcement and immigration between sips of Mom’s sangrias. Why I brought urban liberals and rural conservatives to an unlikely, game-changing gathering in the wheat fields of Oregon. Why I focused my journalism and two professional fellowships on how you build understanding when many talk but few listen. And that’s why I felt drawn to Braver Angels as soon as I heard about it and joined national leadership two years later, meeting and learning from as many of you as I could.

And I am so grateful to hit the road this month, with book events and get-togethers with Braver Angels alliances and members leading this work all across the country.

I’ve filled this book’s pages with stories, insights, and simple, practical ways to have more conversations that make you go, “I never thought of it that way,” and stay curious even when it’s hard.

That’s how we’ll build a country we can all feel at home in.

This conversation is just beginning.

  • Want to join in? Check out the virtual book events listed below and RSVP if you can make it!
  • In Seattle, Washington D.C., or San Francisco? Check out the in-person events in those cities here, and I’ll see you there.
  • Want to support the book? You already do just by being braver angels! But if you’d like you can request copies at your local library or bookstore, or if you want your own copy ASAP, you can pre-order one here

Stay curious, everyone.

— Mónica Guzmán, Director of Digital & Storytelling, Braver Angels | moni@braverangels.org

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