National Week of Conversation Asks: Can What Unites Us End Toxic Polarization?

click to enlarge March for Our Lives, Cleveland, (3/24/2018). - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
March for Our Lives, Cleveland, (3/24/2018).

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohioans of all political viewpoints and backgrounds are encouraged to learn how they can help defeat the toxic polarization plaguing the country.

This is a National Week of Conversation, designed to counteract the hostility often found online through understanding.

Rev. Dr. Jeff Sullivan, executive director of the Ohio Council of Churches, said listening to differing points of view can challenge long-held beliefs and assumptions, which is understandably uncomfortable. He suggests starting a conversation with what unites us as human beings.

"As opposed to beginning with what we differ and what inflames us more," Sullivan suggested. "We have to figure out a way to neutralize the false sense of outrage and anger that are spewed out across society."

Instead of trying to sway someone's opinion on an issue, experts suggest less talking and more listening to understand their perspective. The National Week of Conversation promotes what organizers call "bridging norms," and features several virtual events each day.

Sullivan asserted what is good for our neighbors is also good for us, so whether motivated by faith or other reasons, he believes working toward a common good benefits everyone.

"We don't have to be bound by political parties or economic interests," Sullivan contended. "We could figure out some new ways to live to honor everybody and make sure everybody has clean water, nutritious food to eat, good-paying jobs, health care, good education. These are within our reach."

Sullivan urged religious groups and political leaders to forge conversations that can bring people together.

"If we were to subscribe to the values of love, justice, equity and built relationships and structures through which everybody can triumph, nobody would be trivialized," Sullivan concluded.

***
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.