By Mary Shafer
NOTE: The political opinions expressed here are mine alone. They do not necessarily reflect the position of the Building A New Reality movement.
Nine months ago, I embarked on a radically different lifestyle than I’d lived to that point. Like most people, I had either lived in a house or apartment building. But in early September, 2018, I downsized my life from 1100 sq. ft. to the 118 sq. ft. inside my 20-foot travel trailer.
I had many reasons for this move, not the least of which was to shake up my life a bit. At 57, I had found myself in something of a rut, both personally and professionally. I wanted to avoid a midlife crisis. I also wanted to see the rest of our beautiful country while I was still young and healthy enough to enjoy it.
But another significant motivator for me was to seek the truth about something that had me almost undone. Since the presidential election results of 2016, my liberal heart had shattered in stunned disbelief as I watched a person ascend to the most powerful position in the world, who had no business whatsoever being there.
In the ensuing two years, I watched as this person spoke and behaved in such a way that continued to drive a deep, ugly wedge between my fellow Americans, that had already been there for years. I was so disheartened by what was happening to us as countrymen. It seemed to my historian’s mind that as a country, we were as polarized as we had ever been since the Civil War.
I still think this, but I no longer fret about it as I did before I got on the road. Why?
Because I have traveled nearly 7,000 miles over these past nine months, through 21 of our United States, from one coast to just shy of the other. Those states spanned the North to the South, and nearly every cultural region in our country. I spent time and talked with hundreds of people of every age, social, economic and political stripe. And what I found puts the lie to what we’re being fed by all political parties.
In a repeat, on a larger scale, of what I experienced as a participant in the limited experiment described in Ted Wachtel’s blog post, “Let’s Make America Talk Again,” I found that people of widely varying backgrounds and views not only can, but want to engage in respectful, civil dialogue with each other. Really, really want to.
Refreshing and Renewing
I cannot express my great relief at discovering this. I will admit to having become quite jaded and cynical over the past several years. A steady diet of the endless news cycle and social media had done a serious number on my psyche. But somehow—underneath it all and despite the constant feed of negative news—my heart remained optimistic, against the odds. And I realize now that there is little else, if anything, I could have done that would have allowed me to put the lie to the story that America is hopelessly fractured and will never come together again.
We hear it daily at every turn, how liberals and conservatives are at each other’s throats. And I don’t deny that these things are happening, and probably a lot. But I also know that news coverage is for events that, however genuine, are staged to some extent.
I’ve been a journalist and a marketing person for most of my life and all of my career. I know the news mantra, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Which means we rarely, if ever, get to see stories about the quiet, organic and sincere conversations that take place on front porches, backyards, and around campfires every day.
And I assure you, those conversations are taking place. I have been part of many, since September of last year. And one thing I’ve noticed is that Americans are having these conversations out of a sense of need. Not only the need to be heard, but the need to connect. With each other. With our brethren, from whom we have felt too long estranged.
Revolution by Conversation
I feel that my journey so far—both literal and figurative—has been one long proof of the concept proposed by Ted Wachtel in his recent blog post, Revolution By Conversation. That is a brilliant, simple piece that lays out a powerful argument: that We, The People can take back our peaceful, convivial way of life, but only if we are willing to do the difficult work of taking back our democracy through working toward True Representation.
And that begins with having civil, respectful dialogue with each other. I can guarantee you that this is not the impossibility it has been set up to be in the media and in today’s political rhetoric.
True Representation is a part of the Building A New Reality movement, using the tenets of both restorative practices and deliberative democracy, which represent a dramatic improvement in the way human beings interact. As Ted says, “We have learned by experience: Given the right context, ordinary people are capable of remarkable outcomes.”
I invite you to take the first step in becoming part of the solution to our country’s (and world’s) challenges by
- subscribing to this blog and our mailing list
- joining our Facebook page, and
- downloading and reading our True Representation eBook (through the pop-up when you enter our website)
If you don’t think we have the power to make such a significant impact, let me remind you of this powerful quote from cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”