In his February 22 letter, Mr. Moore is right: no matter what other differences distinguish us, Oakwood residents share the common goal of seeing our children grow up to be "strong, well-educated, critical thinkers with a strong moral compass.” This goal is so dear to each of us and essential to our future that parents, school administrators, and teachers should be able to discuss K-12 education with open hearts and minds, listening to each other's ideas without reflexively applying labels and judgment.
In practice, however, political polarization has reached the level where even hearing an idea proposed by someone on "the other side", or an idea that we associate with "the other side", can be enough to make us oppose that idea. The habit of identifying voices and policies as belonging to "us" or "them", then using those labels to judge whether they are good or bad, means that we respond with our guts rather than our brains. As a result, it’s easy to feel silenced due to fear of being labeled as “other” and ignored or treated as an enemy. Mr. Moore's letter movingly conveys this experience: it sounds like no one expressed negative opinions about Mr. Moore at the forum, yet because he perceived from other speakers' comments that his question reflected a less welcomed perspective, he felt his question would not be meaningfully heard.
It is crucial, however, to admit that both ends of the conservative-liberal spectrum, and those nearer the middle, are guilty of falling for the polarization trap. Scientific studies and casual observations reveal that more Americans than ever, of every political affiliation, view the other party unfavorably.
This animosity prevents us from seeing that Americans disagree on policy far less than we assume we do, even on hot-button topics. It also prevents us from acknowledging the broad diversity of opinions within each party: when we frame issues as mere left-versus-right debates, we dismiss individual freedom of thought.
The Oakwood Inclusion Coalition is committed to tackling polarization in our community by hosting and promoting events that encourage compassionate and open-minded dialogue and cooperation. We particularly recommend the Braver Angels workshop to be held at Wright Memorial Public Library on Saturday, March 18, from 2-3:30 pm. The "Curious Conversations” workshop will teach attendees how to hold fearless, curiosity-driven conversations and constructive dialogue with people they disagree with. This workshop is for you if Mr. Moore's experience resonated with you, or if you were tempted to dismiss his message when you identified his political leanings. Visit www.wrightlibrary.org/events to register.
The differences that distinguish us don't have to divide us. To the contrary: diversity of thought and perspectives makes our community stronger. The OIC believes that sustained communication in good faith between groups can not only overcome labels and judgment, but strengthen our community. Oakwood has a place for parents like Mr. Moore, and we welcome their voices.
Chair, Oakwood Inclusion Coalition