THE BLOG
07/30/2015 11:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Stepping Away from the Fight

by Joan Blades

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[Photo credit: Doug Stryker]

As a founder of MoveOn.org I have seen partisan fight rage back and forth for better than 15 years. I don't see that either side is decisively winning in the near term. In fact I've concluded that we are losing too much. We are losing treasured relationships. We are losing goodwill toward our fellow citizen. We are losing our recognition that we are one country -- so many of us see red states and blue states rather than the United States.

I'm not saying that advocacy is bad. It is honorable and important to fight for what is right. And elections are by their nature adversarial contests where one candidate wins and one loses. But there needs to be something more. When the election is over our leaders need to work together for the common good.

I have chosen to step away from the fight because there are plenty of fighters working on the big issues. I choose to invest my energies in exploring how we can collectively more effectively address the same big issues. I believe our deeply held common values have the power to restore our capacity to engage constructively the people with whom we disagree.

I think addressing climate change is the most pressing issue we face as a species. And I don't believe adversarial solutions are up to the challenge. I also believe it is time for us to decide that nuclear weapons no longer belong in anyone's arsenal, including our own. I bet there is more common ground around this issue than anyone realizes. I am still heartbroken by the neglect of children, the mentally ill, and homeless people. More focus on our shared aspirations might allow us to envision solutions to some of these problems that we are failing to address. I simply think we need to do more than fight.

Developing understanding, trust and relationship makes space for greater creativity and generosity when solving problems. And this can be challenging. I try to listen deeply to my conservative friends. When we disagree I may have to sit with that tension. At times I think my head may explode, because these wonderful smart caring people have beliefs so very different from my own. Sometimes I realize we are working with different "facts". We may agree to disagree for the time being.

I'm learning to have faith that if we are in right relationship good things will happen. I do not know with any specificity what this practice of non-violence will lead to. I am simply convinced that better outcomes and results require we do something different. If we care about each other we will work to find ways to meet each other's core needs and almost certainly address problems dramatically more effectively.

Thirty years ago I was a divorce mediator and wrote one of the first books in this field about divorce mediation because it was evident that adversarial divorces were toxic for children. Parents who made the commitment to mediate divorce and custody agreements that could work for them and their children were far better able to care for their children. And because they had a working relationship they were in a position to renegotiate as their children's needs changed.

The same principles can be applied to politics. Addressing significant problems optimally requires us to transcend the partisan fight so that we can benefit from all of our best minds and capacities. Obamacare was a start to solving the most urgent problem of millions of the uninsured, but it was only a start. With Democrats in a defensive crouch and Republicans threatening to repeal - making it better is not even on the table.

We cannot afford to do this with the issue of climate, nuclear weapons or even the economy. We must have the capacity to correct mistakes, make improvements to promising programs and exhibit the kind of agility necessary for optimizing our responses as we learn from our actions.

I will no doubt fail at times in my attempt to step away from the fight. I am after all steeped in partisan politics. But my intent is to treat everyone with respect, co-host Living Room Conversations with my conservative friends, look for common ground, work collaboratively whenever possible and create a world in which everyone has dignity. We all want our children to inherit a country and a world that they can pass on to their children proud that together we cared for the needs of future generations.

Joan Blades is a co-founder of LivingRoomConversations.org, MomsRising.org and MoveOn.org. She is a Great Work Cultures champion and co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace (customfitworkplace.org) and The Motherhood Manifesto. She is a true believer in the power of citizens and our need to rebuild respectful civil discourse while embracing our core shared values.

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