Note from Jen: Venturing out from our bases

November 13, 2018

We made it through the midterm elections.

I heard a talk by a political science professor a few weeks ago that reminded me that midterm election strategy is about motivating political bases. That’s who tends to vote in midterm elections. So, in midterm elections our political parties are not trying to reach out to the middle. They want their loyalists to be as angry and scared and motivated as possible.

I find it comforting to think that this election season was politics at its worst, because I think it was pretty terrible. I am on Twitter for my job and it has been a hard stretch. Even when I agree with the value or the political opinion a person is expressing, I am frequently upset by the tone.

There are issues worth getting angry about. There are issues worth fighting for. For lots of people across our region and across the country, there are policy issues in play right now that are core to their values or safety or livelihood and it would be nearly impossible not to feel emotional.

The question is not whether anger is justified. What we feel is what we feel. The question is what we do with anger. Right now, I think we are in an anger arms race that is not serving anyone well.

I believe that anything worth getting mad about is worth spending thoughtful, reflective time figuring out the most effective way to address. It is possible that the most effective way to address an issue we care about is by yelling at or demonizing people…but not usually.

When we respond in anger, we fuel the anger of others. We make it even less likely that the person we are angry at will be able to hear us and understand our point of view. We activate their defenses. We give them reason to think we are unreasonable.

Breaking out of an anger arms race — like any arms race — requires people who are willing to act outside their instincts and norms. To respond differently to what provokes them. To create a new way of working on the problem. To decide it is more important to be effective than to be right. To show enough openness and vulnerability that others feel they can, too.

The Bush Foundation is nonpartisan. We do our work, however, in a partisan world. We recognize this in our focus on community problem solving. We recognize that solving problems in our communities requires working across political difference. And like working across any kind of difference, this requires truly understanding what we believe and why. It requires practicing curiosity and truly seeking to understand what others believe and why. And it requires working to adapt our approach to build connections and bridge divides. This practice — developing the mindsets and skillsets to work across difference — is core to all our work at the Bush Foundation and, we believe, essential for the well-being of our region.

Even as our politics divide us…even as we line up to work as hard as we can against each other in campaigns….to address community challenges, we need people to venture out from their bases. We need people who disagree on some things to be willing to agree and work together on other things. We are all in this region together. We are who we’ve got. And making our communities and our region thrive requires us to find and create common ground wherever we can.