Dividing or Uniting Americans: Trying to Recruit Two Northwest Iowans

The following was published in the September 8 issue of the Capital Democrat in Orange City, Iowa

It has been accurately suggested that a rapidly emerging problem among Americans is that half of us don’t want to talk to the other half.

As some readers of the Capital Democrat may recall from previous pieces I have written, for the past decade or so my primary passion has been to try to create safe and welcoming spaces for persons who have strong disagreements to talk respectfully to one another about their disagreements, as a deep expression of love. The results of five such past conversations (called eCircles) can be accessed on my website, www.respectfulconversation.net.

I would now like to design a sixth such conversation, precipitated by a criticism I have of President Biden’s recent speech about “The Future of Our Nation.” Biden’s speech presented a strong critique of the extreme MAGA wing of the Republican party as posing a severe threat to democracy in America. I happen to agree with Biden about this severe threat. But my criticism of Biden’s speech is that, as one interviewee on Fox News said, in this speech he was serving as a “Divider-in-Chief,” not as the “Uniter-in-Chief” that he has promised to be. Perhaps Biden has given up hope that MAGA Republicans want to talk to those who disagree with them. I cling tenaciously to that hope.

I would like to serve as a “uniter” rather than as a “divider” in northwest Iowa by trying to recruit two northwest Iowans, one a MAGA Republican and one, whether a Republican or Democrat, who rejects the positions embraced by MAGA Republicans, to help me implement a respectful conversation on my website.

The approach I am taking to coming up with a design is one that worked well in the past “Trump Conversation” reported on my website, in which I recruited one “leader” for each side of this issue who was willing to participate on this conversation and was willing to recruit three other conversation partners (CPs) who would take a similar view as to the strength, or weakness.  of the MAGA branch of the Republican party.

But there is a stipulation that I need to make clear up-front; a stipulation I have insisted upon in all my previous eCircles: The two leaders, and the other six CPs, must agree to a set of five “Guidelines for Respectful Conversations” before this conversation begins, the most stringent of which is that in my conversation with a person who disagrees with me, I will explore whether we can find some common ground by critically examining my own view in light of his/her contrary view and the reasons he/she has for that view. This guideline requires more that politeness,  listening to the views of others without interruption; it requires a good faith effort to critically examine your own beliefs after carefully listening to the contrary beliefs of others.

If you are interested in exploring the possibility of serving as one of the two leaders for recruiting other CPs and for helping me to design the details for implementing this conversation, please tell me so by means of an email to heieharold@gmail.com. We will then schedule a coffee break, where we can talk some more about the design of this conversation, including my sharing with you the four other “Guidelines for Respectful Conversation,” to help you to make a final decision about whether you wish to serve in this important leadership capacity.

I thank you in advance for your consideration.

Harold Heie

Orange City

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