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Listening and Speaking Bravely: Bringing People Together

How I Got to Braver Angels

~ by Dwain Wilder

When I first heard of Braver Angels I was too involved with other activist duties to attend to the call. But as soon as a newer opportunity arose, I dove in to some national debates on vital matters. It was so refreshing to be on a national call with all sorts of folks, each speaking their mind without any ill will or the desire for other people to 'see things my way.' We were simply listening to each other. And I found a wealth of wisdom coming from people my circumstances wouldn't ordinarily bring me into contact with.

But wait a minute! As I write that last sentence I realize that my life has always included such friends! One of my watchwords is that my favorite sort of person is someone with whom I have as much fun disagreeing as I do agreeing. I enjoy keeping tabs on conservatives who think and write about current national matters of concern without delving into doctrinal issues (other than to give the doctrines a thorough drubbing, which all doctrines deserve, regularly!).

My interest in getting good conversations going between people who have radically different points of view seems to have been with me from early in life, growing up in East Texas. My family didn't define ourselves racially. My father was raised in Northeast Mississippi, a few miles away from Tupelo, which was a center for music and musicians. And he grew up surrounded by the conditions portrayed by William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor and many other Southern writers. Yet when my sister fell in love with a Black man, he was welcomed into the family, and my father – by then an ordained Southern Baptist minister – officiated. And I carry all those characters from Faulkner, Welty, O'Connor, and Tennessee Williams, Harper Lee, and W. J. Cash, as well, directly in my heart and imagination. I have an inner redneck, and the older I get the more I value it.

As a result, it has been easy for me to see that the divisions that have been deepening throughout my lifetime were the creations of people who have much to gain by keeping the rest of us divided and considering one another enemies. This was made clear to me as I worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Dialogue Project. The project leader sent me and his son to Miami to find out if an inter-racial movement could be formed to pursue a common interest: unionizing for higher pay. As we worked in the Black communities we were readily welcomed in homes, listened to carefully, and questioned astutely. To a great extent, the Blacks we interviewed immediately agreed with the notion that working together with Whites would be to mutual advantage. But in the White working-class communities we were met with mistrust, lack of enthusiasm, fear —and more than a few times practically thrown off the porch for suggesting an end to "freedom to work laws." These laws were not at all about the freedom to get a job anywhere, as so many Whites believed. They were laws to protect employers' ability to hire at the lowest possible wages.

So, for me, the core problem with division has not been to 'change' other people's minds but rather to give them an ear, a full hearing, so they could explore fully the many

facets of their beliefs and how they came to hold them. The next step would be to provide a space for them to listen to others, who had different circumstances and different experiences, and consequently, held different beliefs about what is true, and about who is doing what to whom for what reason.

So Braver Angels is a place that I find that I have just as much fun being a part of the audience as being granted a few minutes to speak my own mind. Being from East Texas, of course, I've never had trouble doing that! But being in a roomful (or zoomful) of people who are quietly, courageously and with great courtesy doing that is such a fulfilling thing. I come away with greater respect for views I do not agree with. That enables me to hold a Republican such as Liz Cheney in high regard for the honor, dignity and sheer grit with which she fulfills her responsibilities to our whole nation, at a time when almost all her fellow Party members would like to do away with her.

Does that mean that I agree with Liz Cheney? Does it mean I think Liz Cheney agrees with me, or works for my interests? Does it mean I'd like Liz Cheney as my Congressional Representative? Nope, it's more complex than that. And therefore deeply human, and thus a situation I can support, in which anything can happen.

Debates are a great opportunity to see first-hand the span of imaginations and experience that Braver Angels is able to assemble. Where only doctrine or power prevails, only the doctrinally correct or the powerful can succeed. And that is a form of going dead, not a way to stay alive.


If you haven’t witnessed a Braver Angels’ debate yet, consider checking out one of the debates in which Dwain has participated as a speech giver:



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