Midterms looming and politics leaving you frustrated? Do you find your crazy liberal uncle impenetrable, or your conservative niece baffling? Have you found yourself hissing in incomprehensible rage at your neighbor’s campaign signs? Or maybe, you think people being that at-odds is itself just maddening?
“If it has gotten to this point, then you should know there is another way,” says Keith Kozloff, of Takoma Park. “That you can understand someone without having to persuade them.”
Kozloff is a volunteer with Better Angels, a national nonprofit founded with the express purpose of getting people who can’t stand each other’s politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table to sit down and talk politics — and really listen to one another.
“Better Angels finds a couple of local people who are willing to organize. Usually a conservative-leaning person and a liberal-leaning person will pair up and they will each recruit people from their own political tribe, if you will,” Kozloff said.
That ideologically balanced group will then meet with specially trained moderators from Better Angels, according to Kozloff.
“The goal is to organize a red/blue workshop and then to establish what's called a Better Angels Alliance,” he said. “Where the people going to the workshop have established enough trust and comfort to continue meeting with each other and maybe talk about local community issues, political issues.”
Better Angels has yet to hold a workshop in Carroll County, and that’s why Kozloff will be holding an introductory information session from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library. The organization, he said, has been trying to reach out and conduct more workshops in communities around Maryland, seeking areas with different demographics.
“Carroll County could be an interesting area because politically speaking, it’s got a mixture of liberals and conservatives,” Kozloff said. “One of the drawbacks of working in Montgomery County is it's honestly a little too blue. Where I live in Takoma Park is about the bluest of the blue. The organization is really committed to being bipartisan.”
Better Angels was formed about two years ago, according to Kozloff, and some of the techniques and strategies employed in its protocols for getting politically divided people to listen to one another have their roots in family psychology.
“It really does have similarities because lot of it is, how do you really listen to someone else?” he said. “Whether it is in the middle of a family conflict or something else.”
In addition to the daylong red/blue alliance workshops, better angels also conducts half-day skills workshops that focus more on teaching listening skills than on getting ideologically diverse people to sit down and talk. These can be arranged before, after or independently of the red/blue workshops, Kozloff said, depending on community interest.
“It’s one thing to be exposed to good listening skills and know what one should do, intellectually, but in the moment it can be hard to apply them,” he said. “Practicing is valuable.”
The meeting on Oct. 6 will not be either of those workshop formats, Kozloff noted, but an opportunity for people in Carroll County to come out and express interest in possibly organizing a workshop in the near future.
“I think there’s just a growing number of people who are sufficiently concerned about the polarization or the tribalism,” he said. “We have to figure out ways to keep talking to each other.”