Conversation partners

The first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration and the 2017 Women’s March is one of those moments that brings into sharp relief the political diversity of Mount Desert Island and Hancock County communities.

For some, this weekend last year was a launch pad for a year of political action they’d never imagined themselves taking: calling representatives to weigh in on bills and nominations, meeting with senators and their staffers, writing op-eds. For others, it marked hope for a new political era, one that would be less politically correct and friendlier to U.S. businesses.

In too many places around the country, people have sorted themselves geographically by political worldview. That’s an unfortunate trend for at least two reasons. At the individual level, people who rarely encounter anyone who sees things differently assume the worst about “the other side” and struggle to carry on open, respectful debates. At the electoral level, it means politicians in seats that are “safe” for one of the major parties have less incentive to seek compromise, as doing so makes them more vulnerable to primary challenges.

The skills and attributes needed to “win” elected office too often work against what elected officials often do: balancing competing interests. Our legislative processes are responsive to the will of the majority but seek to protect the rights of the minority.

We are fortunate that here, we still live together. In school activities, in community groups and in local civic life, the culture war will continue to rear its head. We are challenged to simultaneously advocate for what we believe in while searching for weak spots in our own arguments and strengths in the other side.

“When it comes to moral judgments,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt said, “we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.”

When discussing “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays”; or how immigration and sanctuary communities will be taught in our schools; or racism, the Black Lives Matter movement and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., we should seek out conversation partners who see things differently.

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