THE BLOG
11/29/2016 04:45 pm ET

2 Ways to be a positive change-maker: Reconciling conversations and peace-making

Beyond the post-election protests and celebrations lies a vital question. How do we move beyond the demonizing of one another that is a path to our mutual destruction? Here are 2 are practical and life-changing ways: create reconciling conversations and become a proud peace-maker.

We are reduced to living in bubbles of various kinds. Your bubble or mine may be comforting, reassuring and even safe for you. But our bubbles poison the well of our common life. They leave us shouting at one another like a mad uncle in the basement.

The 2016 election was a seismic blast in our country. Neither party predicted it and neither did the commentariat and pollsters. Things are different because of the words spoken because words cannot be retracted and they live on.

One candidate called some Americans deplorable because of their support of another candidate. The President-elect mocked the disabled, incited hatred and fear of immigrants, Muslims, the media and reduced women to sex objects ripe for predatory behavior. He even promised to overturn the marriages of gay couples like me.

We Americans are more than this! The Americans I know are generous, kind, creative, inventive and helpful to those in need. I see it as I travel the country to speak and I've known it in the small and big cites I've lived on both coasts.

Much of my life is spent between three locations. They represent two distinct America's - that of Seattle/Palm Springs and that of rural Eastern Washington State. You can probably identify with at least one of them.

My friends and colleagues in Seattle and Palm Springs live in a progressive bubble. In Seattle, I too often hear Eastern Washingtonians written off as "red necks" and people who abuse their immigrant workers. In the institution that I led in Seattle members confided in me their fear of being identified as a Republican and being judged and isolated for it. So, they kept silent or chose not to participate in certain areas of institutional life. The bubble reigned over them with fear.

In Eastern Washington State, most of my friends describe themselves as Republican which creates its own bubble. They may rail against liberal Seattle and the Democratic lock on State politics but most embrace some combination, if not all of these, positions - immigration reform, freedom of choice, gay marriage and an end to police racial profiling. Those raising daughters are equipping them to be strong, confident women. They treat their employees as well as any employer in Seattle might.

Bubbles of any kind create a tyranny of the self-righteous. People in both bubbles I move among are good people; they're all proud Americans.

So how do we get beyond the bubbles that poison us? The political affiliations we claim often mask the complexity of our views and positions. The labelling and stereotyping that ensues produce a terrifying result - diminishing and dismissing other human beings because of their "politics." That's ugly and proclaims that some people do not count. We are better than that!

Reconciling conversation is one way of being a positive change-maker.

Reconciliation is not about raising a white flag or putting aside the deeply held values that shape you.
Reconciling conversation is about speaking the truth of what you believe, beginning by identifying your unique experiences that forged those beliefs. Speaking truth is not the same as lecturing someone or trying to convert them to your views. It is about being authentic and even raw if it is safe to be so.

Reconciling conversations mean that both parties come with a willingness to listen, to avoid interrupting and leaving any urge to diminish or demean the other person at the door.

Reconciling conversations are not about converting or convincing one another although that may sometimes happen. The purpose is to discover your common humanity. From there you find common purpose for solving issues that you both care about but which partisan labels blind you to.

Peace-making is the other essential ingredient.

Peace is not the absence of conflict or war. Peace always celebrates vibrant, lively, engaged conversations in which demeaning people is replaced by seeking the possible. Peace-makers do not shut down or restrict freedom of expression by bullying, intimidation or any other means. They encourage freedom of expression.

Peace is not some woo-woo concept; it is hands-on and practical. People looking for cheap fixes often find it too self-demanding but it is an investment that returns endless dividends in human capital.

Peace is the desire to work for the well-being of every person - economically, spiritually, emotionally and politically. To work for this kind or real, gritty, practical peace requires that you are at peace within yourself.

Inner peace comes from knowing the essence of who you are and not fearing it. It may include being at peace with using your voice and power along with celebrating your compassion and generosity. It means being driven, not by your inner demons and fears but, by your hopes and dreams for the well-being of yourself and others.

Inner peace typically includes being aware of your own shadows. Inner peace acknowledges that life is not "all about me"; that we need one another to be fully human. That includes people whose politics you or I disagree with. While that is a non-negotiable it does not mean you necessarily like such people.

Yes, some resist peace and reconciling conversations. They include special interest groups and action committees who intentionally misrepresent and twist the truth. The people who care more about raising money to divide us to keep hold of their toxic bully pulpits. In this realm are found the hate groups who have emerged from the shadows in this presidential campaign. It also includes those who hide behind the tyranny of their own self-righteous bubbles.

To allow such groups to prevent your working to create peace and reconciling conversations is to cede your power to them.

You can only focus on what you can accomplish. In doing so you will make your work more inviting and appealing than theirs.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been gracious in their words and encouraging about an America in which we all belong. Now the real work is up to us.

Let go of demonizing and labelling. They're a mutual death spiral.

Try on some reconciling conversations and practice the kind of peace that begins with you. An inner peace that seeks the well-being of all. That combination is part of how we all flourish!

So, get up on your feet and declare America's expansiveness, kindness, generosity, inclusiveness, resilience and hope. For the sake of us all!
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Robert V. Taylor is President of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation based in New York City, and an author and speaker.

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