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CEPE sponsors political dialogue workshop

Noor+Bibi+%28%E2%80%9821%29+and+Nell+Himlie+%28%E2%80%9821%29+engage+in+a+discussion+during+the+Better+Angels+Workshop+on+Saturday%2C+Dec.+1.
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CEPE sponsors political dialogue workshop

Noor Bibi (‘21) and Nell Himlie (‘21) engage in a discussion during the Better Angels Workshop on Saturday, Dec. 1.

Noor Bibi (‘21) and Nell Himlie (‘21) engage in a discussion during the Better Angels Workshop on Saturday, Dec. 1.

Grace Onsrud (‘20) | Chips

Noor Bibi (‘21) and Nell Himlie (‘21) engage in a discussion during the Better Angels Workshop on Saturday, Dec. 1.

Grace Onsrud (‘20) | Chips

Grace Onsrud (‘20) | Chips

Noor Bibi (‘21) and Nell Himlie (‘21) engage in a discussion during the Better Angels Workshop on Saturday, Dec. 1.

Grace Onsrud, Staff Writer

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The Luther College Center for Ethics and Public Engagement held a Better Angels Skills Workshop on Saturday, Dec. 1. The goal of the workshop was to provide people with skills to communicate more effectively and empathetically across the political divide. Around 20 students, faculty, and community members attended the event led by Better Angels co-founder William Doherty.

According to their website, “Better Angels is a national citizens’ movement to reduce political polarization in the United States by bringing liberals and conservatives together to understand each other beyond stereotypes, forming red/blue community alliances, teaching practical skills for communicating across political differences, and making a strong public argument for depolarization.”

During the workshop, Doherty introduced different listening and speaking skills and then had the participants practice each skill in pairs. These dialogue skills included paraphrasing the statements of the other person, looking for common ground, and asking clarifying questions during conversation. Doherty asked the participants to work in pairs with someone of their own political party to practice the skills in a low-stakes context.

Grace Onsrud (‘20) | Chips
Better Angels co-founder William Doherty led the workshop on Saturday, Dec. 1.

Doherty, who is also the director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Center at the University of Minnesota, began this work because of his experience working with the divisive issues that many families face.

“I started because I was interested in issues in family life that divide people like gay marriage,” Doherty said. “I started to get involved in helping people come together across differences around that topic and then after the election occurred, some people invited me to help design workshops for Reds and Blues, for people who are different politically.”

Associate Professor of History and Director of the CEPE Victoria Christman said that the skills she learned from Better Angels will help her navigate non-political discussions as well. Christman, as well as Assistant Director of the CEPE Krista Holland, is trained to moderate Better Angels Workshops.

“I find that it becomes an attitude of mind,” Christman said. “It is a different way to be in the world and I find myself using the skills I learned at Better Angels in all conversations that I have. I am human like everybody else, so I’m not particularly good at [conversations], but I feel as though I now have some skills and techniques to help me as I move through the more challenging areas of life.”

The morning before the skills workshop, Doherty led a Red-Blue Dialogue, which was a discussion between seven Democrats and seven Republicans from the Decorah community. The CEPE chose to recruit community members for that discussion, but there is potential for a Better Angels Red-Blue Dialogue between Luther students in the future.

“We’ve done Red-Blue workshops at different colleges and students tend to love it,” Doherty said. “They decided to recruit from the community, but I’m encouraging them to get students because students take to this really well, in part because they’re not as entrenched.”

Kristen Hansen (‘20) feels that the skills she learned in the workshop could be valuable at Luther because she does not experience much inter-party dialogue. She also wishes that more students could have benefited from the event. 

“It reminded me that it’s important to find common ground when you’re having these conversations because I tend to get very polarized in what I’m saying,” Hansen said. “While I think I do an okay job at listening to what other people are saying not just for the purpose of responding but for the sake of listening, I often forget to point out where there are similarities between my opinions and other peoples’. I think that does really help de-escalate situations.”

Noor Bibi (‘21) hopes to find ways to use the skills learned at the workshop in her daily life and conversations with friends.

“What he talked about, it’s not just about these political parties,” Bibi said. “I related a lot to my own life and sometimes I do listen to people for the sake of responding, so now I kind of changed my mind and if I am in a conversation with someone, I would like to know their perspective more.”

Christman said the CEPE plans to hold more workshops like this in the future.

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