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VIEWPOINT: Let’s restore the best parts of the Delaware Way

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President and CEO of Delaware Community Foundation Stuart Comstock-Gay

For generations, Delawareans have spoken proudly (for the most part) of the Delaware Way – our practice of working together, even through our differences, to find common ground and get things done in this state of neighbors.

We have regaled the Mike Castles and Bill Roths who thrived in our once-moderate/now-blue-leaning state, as they leveraged their commitment to community and progress to overcome party differences.

But now, as our focus has turned to national partisan politics and wedge issues, our communities seem to be splitting apart – around politics, religion (or non-religion), race, social values, class, rural-urban issues…

Sure, the Delaware Way has its limits and issues (we can work on those parts), but are we losing our ability to work together as a community? And what can we do about it?

This divisiveness shows up particularly in our political systems, of course, where we find ourselves “sorting” each other first and foremost by political party. Who among us has not judged another person by their chosen political candidate? Too many of us have lost friends and even family members in the scrapping over the 2020 election.

But there’s one thing most of us agree on: We don’t like the way our political system is working right now.

According to the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Americans say they’re not satisfied with the way American democracy is working. Many point the finger at the opposing political party: 72 percent of Republicans regard Democrats as more immoral, and 63 percent of Democrats say the same about Republicans.

We seem to forget that we are all people who want safe and healthy lives for our children and neighbors and ourselves.

It is abundantly clear that we need to strengthen the underpinnings of our democratic systems, and our civic instincts and infrastructure. There are many things we can and must do. Better local journalism, sure. Stronger civics education in our schools, absolutely. Support for our civic infrastructure – like libraries – you bet. Electoral reforms, undoubtedly.

But there’s also something each of us can do individually, alongside our civic engagement and commitment to core democratic practices.

We can ratchet back our judgement and try to understand each other, just a little bit more.

Democracy is based on the belief that we should examine and weigh a variety of ideas and perspectives to determine the best path forward.

That means we have to practice new ways of listening – in pursuit of understanding – even when we disagree.

We need to re-learn how to have the real discussions that will strengthen our democracy. Not “how can you believe that crazy idea,” but “help me understand how you came to believe that.”  This isn’t to say we accept or celebrate those who foment outright lies – there’s way too much intentional falsehood around, and we still need to fight that. But at the same time, we need to better understand each other, as neighbors and fellow citizens.

Mónica Guzmán, of Braver Angels, has some strategies for how we can have those conversations, even with that maddening friend or uncle who voted for the “wrong” guy.

Guzmán’s book, I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times, begins with her own story. Guzman, the “loving liberal daughter of Mexican immigrants who strongly support Donald Trump” asks that we learn not necessarily to agree with each other but to listen, to understand, and to build better communities.

“The barriers between us,” says Guzman, “are lower than we think.”

For the past several months, hundreds of Delawareans have been reading Guzman’s book through the Delaware Community Foundation’s annual Building Opportunity Book Circles. We still have a few dates coming up if you’d like to participate.

On Nov. 16, Guzmán will speak about her book and her ideas in Wilmington. We’d love for you to join us in person or virtually. More information is at delcf.org/keynote.

In our work, we get to work with diverse, passionate, and generous people in all three counties every day. Some are Republican, some Democratic, some independent, some entirely apolitical. They’re conservative and liberal and in between, religious and agnostic and unclear about it. Yet we’re all trying to make a better and more equitable community.

Because whatever else may be true about us, we’re a state of neighbors. And we’re in this together.

Stuart Comstock-Gay is president and CEO of the Delaware Community Foundation.

 

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