Posted by Lynette Andersen
February was Peace and Conflict Prevention/Resolution Month. On February 20, 2021, the D5180 Peace Committee sponsored a very special program on Zoom: a Braver Angels Fishbowl. If you missed it, you are in luck. We recorded the entire event. You can watch it here. 
Just as masks, social distancing, and vaccinations comprise our toolbox to combat COVID, Braver Angels is one of many strategies to inoculate us against political polarization. We are painfully aware that political polarization and divisiveness threaten our democracy, not to mention our personal relationships. Few among us have not suffered an estranged relationship or two, or three, from friends, associates and, even family members.
Polarization occurs when people refuse to associate with others who do not share their values, opinions beliefs and political views. The consequences of political polarization are misinformation, disinformation, governmental dysfunction, and violence.
Unfortunately, avoidance is rarely a successful coping strategy. In this hyper-polarized environment, where the messenger often takes precedence over the message, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to understand another’s perspective, especially if people isolate themselves in their own information silos. Sadly, it seems that “compromise” is a dirty word. While “consensus” may be a better word, UNDERSTANDING is the best word.
UNDERSTANDING, not conversion, is what Braver Angels is all about. To overcome polarization, Americans must learn to build bridges across political divides. Braver Angels tackles political polarization head on. Confronting polarization, especially in a controlled environment, allows us to start the conversation. It also allows each of us, as Rotarians, to follow the 4-way Test, especially the third: Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
There were 94 participants at this Braver Angels Fishbowl. As one panelist commented afterwards, “It’s  too bad we didn’t have 500.” In the Fishbowl, under the skillful direction of our Braver Angels moderator, Anne Browning (who is also a member of the Rotary Club of Fair Oaks), 7 conservative (red) panelists discussed why they thought conservative values and policies were good for the county. Then, the red panelists discussed concerns they have with conservative values and policies. The liberal (blue) panelists did the same when it was their turn. The 2 panels reconvened. Together, they discussed what surprised them about what the “other side” had said and what we have in common.
The panelists were recruited from clubs all over District 5180. Each of the 14 panelists were intelligent and articulate Rotarians. With Anne’s polite, but firm guidance, the panelists demonstrated how to have “a thoughtful, and thought-provoking discourse on very important issues facing our country.” When the civil discourse was over, they left respecting the other side.  
Among the observers were Johrita Solari, our RI-Director, and Vicky Pulitz, our RI-Director-Elect. Both were impressed with the program. The word is spreading and we’re getting calls from other districts, asking for information about how other districts can sponsor their own Braver Angels event.
We’ll be discussing how to build on this very successful event at the next Peace Committee meeting. Stay tuned.