Better Angels promoting civil political discussions between parties


Victoria Hertel

Better Angels Skills Workshop Republican attendees discussing gun control and immigration rights at the Cozby Library and Commons on Saturday. Better Angels is a national organization that promotes civil political discussions of understanding between Democrats and Republicans.

Victoria Hertel, Staff Writer

Rick Thomas became a moderator for Better Angels because of his wish to put an end to the growing divide between political parties in the U.S.

“I was concerned about the direction that the country is heading and I came across Better Angels as a way to approach that,” Better Angels moderator Rick Thomas said. “It is important that we get back to [civil discussions in politics]. Media has pushed things in [a negative] direction.”

At the Better Angels Skills Workshop at the Cozby Library and Commons on Saturday the goals and principles of conversations between Democrats and Republicans were addressed. To have a discussion centering around politics with someone of opposing beliefs, people need to be curious about the perspectives of the other side and listen respectfully. 

“Because I come from the Hispanic community, I hear both sides and I see some hatred,” Beatriz Salazar, a first time Better Angels attendee, said. “When I heard about Better Angels I thought that I could educate myself and have good conversations back [home].”

When listening, it is best to paraphrase what the other person has said back to them and ask real questions that confirm understanding. In addition, individuals on both sides are likely able to find common ground about an issue which helps the discussion continue. 

While speaking, attendees are encouraged to use “I statements” and acknowledge what the other person has said before disagreeing. During difficult moments in the conversation, they should stay focused on one topic, not answer baiting questions or even subtly exit the conversation.

“If we’re going to get to the point where we can talk about differences effectively, we need those [listening and speaking] skills,” Eleanor Goodwin, moderator of the Better Angels Skills Workshop, said. “People don’t necessarily learn those, classes in speaking are usually about saying things in a way to get the point across rather than in a way that the person can actually hear it.”

After learning about listening and speaking in civil political conversations, Goodwin and a moderator present a scripted discussion that shows two people effectively listening and speaking to one and other. They address that these discussions cannot be made with anyone only people who are open to new ideas are likely to return respect. 

The goal of these discussions is not to convince the other side, but to understand them and gain new perspectives. 

The attendees were split between Democrats on one side of the room and Republicans on the other. Every person paired up with another in their own party. They practiced having conversations about gun control and immigration rights while one person role played as a member of the other party. 

“I would’ve loved a bigger challenge,” Salazar said. “I was talking to somebody on my side and if I would’ve had the opportunity to disagree with someone in a civil way it would’ve been a challenge and I would’ve learned a lot more.” 

However, the activity continues to give perspective and offer listening and speaking practice for the attendees. Furthermore, other full-day workshops offered by Better Angels allow attendees to converse with the other side. The Red Blue Workshop offers this along with fishbowl exercises and busting stereotypes.

“The Red Blue workshop is a more intense experience because it is a full-day and so structured. [The Better Angels Skills Workshop] is more of a training,” Goodwin said. 

Nearly half of the attendees at the Better Angels Skills Workshop were members. It costs $12 per year to join. 

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