Why does polarization so frequently characterize our discourse? How can people find common ground?
Those were two of the questions at the heart of “Us and Them: How did we become so polarized?”, a panel discussion held at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) earlier this month.
“So many people today live in their own echo chambers, politically, religiously and in larger society,” Terry Schellenberg, vice-president external at CMU, told the Winnipeg Free Press in advance of the event. “They find it hard to engage in meaningful ways with people who see things differently. More than ever, we all need to listen well, befriending people who see things otherwise, to listen deeply and well.”
Moderated by CMU professor Paul Doerksen, the event—which you can watch below—featured Larry Updike, a former radio host; Sandy Koop-Harder, a professional mediator; Marnie Klassen, a fourth-year social theology student at CMU; and Canadian Mennonite writer Will Braun.
“It’s part of our purpose… to bring a view of a sense of hope, a way forward perhaps, a consideration of engagement with others that’s not predicated on either absolute division or some vague, flaccid notion of ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’” Doerksen said during his opening remarks.
If you want to jump around in the video, here’s a quick guide to the proceedings:
01:55 - Opening remarks by Paul Doerksen.
07:25 - Larry Updike speaks.
15:58 - Sandy Koop-Harder speaks.
24:22 - Will Braun speaks.
34:42 - Marnie Klassen speaks.
44:00 - The panel responds to questions from the audience.
“We all have a role to play in bridging differences, big and small,” Koop-Harder said at the event. “Are we working at building authentic understanding or are we just trying to convince each other of our viewpoints? Are we fostering open and honest dialogue, or are we simply stirring the pot?”
“How we show up in these moments—it matters a lot,” she added. “It starts with choosing to shift away from that either/or, us-and-them thinking, away from our assumptions and judgments, and to a posture of curiosity. It starts with making understanding the goal—even when, and especially when, we disagree. And that starts with listening to one another.”
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