Whenever you get Republicans and Democrats into a room to talk about politics, it’s bound to be a bit tense right from the start. But at the end of one recent meeting, 50 people, almost equally representing both parties, left smiling. And some even hugged one another, having just formed vital understanding and relationships in spite of their differences.
The meeting workshop, called “Crossing the Political Divide,” helps conservatives and liberals better understand each other’s values and improve mutual communication. This particular workshop is one of a number of substantive programs and events offered through Gorge Happiness Month (October) by One Community Health.
The Wasco County GOP hosted this month’s first workshop on Monday, Oct. 1, at the Wasco Public Library. One Community Health will put on a workshop next at the Stevenson Community Library on Friday, Oct. 12.
“People were rightly nervous at first,” says Heidi Venture, owner of Heidi Venture Consulting LLC, which developed and offers this training workshop as one of its core services. “Generally, things tend to go badly when Republicans and Democrats try to have a conversation. But there were a lot of discussions where people were smiling and were very animated. The only non-white person who attended was originally from Mexico, and a male Conservative chose to pair up with her. They were some of the ones who hugged at the end of it all—he really wanted to learn about her.”
The 90-minute Crossing the Political Divide workshop explores key differences between conservatives and liberals teaches people how to value those differences, and strives to build understanding while co-existing alongside one another.
The evening’s format includes Venture’s presentation, where she educates the group around 1) common values 2) the problems of dehumanization, and 3) communication skills that don’t strive to change people’s minds but build bridges to a greater understanding of differences.
She then has people break into small groups, giving them political topics to discuss using the communication tools they’ve just been taught.
Among the feedback, one conservative participant said of her discussion with a liberal participant, “We’ve had this enjoyable conversation…I learned more about her and her experience, and I think she knows more about mine. I actually feel quite validated.”
Her liberal discussion partner’s response: “I appreciated being able to hear more about where she was coming from—why she is a member of this party. And we discussed several topics that we actually probably agree upon.”
Crossing the Political Divide is made possible in part by the Ford Family Foundation, whereby Venture has formed a nonprofit called “Eye to Eye” to promote this workshop. Hundreds of people throughout Oregon and Washington have now attended this workshop training, leaving happier and completely unharmed.