Across the Aisle

As tensions ratchet up around the U.S. presidential election results, and more and more common is heard the phrase “civil war,” we need some way to bring the temperature down. We seem to be moving towards inhabiting different worlds of alternate realities, parallel universes of perspective, experience, and belief, with the very real potential for eruptions into violence. 

I believe the way we reduce these tensions is through shifting from trying to convince each other out of what seem to be misinformed or even delusional beliefs to seeing if we can hear and understand each other. What is key is to let go of seeking agreement on this level, while still remaining grounded in our own sense of reality. From this understanding we can focus on what we each want, and ultimately what we all want, all of us around the country and around the world – safety, security, freedom, honoring and protection of what we feel to be sacred, respect, inclusion, belonging, mattering, love and connection. 

From this place of what we all want and need, we have the possibility of cooperation, even with all the disagreements and different realities still being there. 

For the past few months a team of colleagues and I have been offering a weekly online public space that we call Across The Aisle: Open Conversation for Healing Our Political Divide. People show up to these events with a wide range of political viewpoints. We take turns speaking, hearing, and reflecting back until each speaker feels heard. There’s no attempt to convince or persuade. Just speaking and listening. 

The feedback we’ve received is that the simple structure and process we’ve developed is deeply valuable to participate in or even just observe. One person wrote, “I was able to join your Across the Aisle convo a couple of weeks back. It was maybe the single most powerful learning experience I’ve had in the past few months (and I’ve had a lot of them!). Seeing multiple rounds of reflections back-to-back really helped some pieces fall into place for me, especially around letting go of any agenda I might hold as a listener. I also loved watching you and your co-facilitators establish and revisit roles and norms in real time. I am super grateful that you and your team are offering this opportunity.” 

The structure we use is for each speaker to identify a topic area and then the meaning or story they are making about it. This seems to help create focus and also to develop the ability to see our thoughts and beliefs as something we can be aware of and observe rather than completely identify with. We also ask the speaker to say how they feel and what they want, which tends to lead into greater connection and the possibility for cooperation.

With president-elect Biden, there are deep ideological concerns people have on both sides, but what I feel from him beyond any words he speaks is a soothing, calming presence, an embodied peace that emanates receptivity and welcoming of differences. In this I see the spirit of democracy, the space for all to be seen, heard, and valued – trusting that if this happens coherence and forward movement eventually emerges. If we support this energy I think we can begin to heal our divides and come together as Americans and citizens of the world, even with all our tremendous differences, so we can live in peace and respond together to the great challenges we face.

For more information about our weekly Across The Aisle event (Wednesdays 5-6:30pm PT), see

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