Ain Feb3 Allstate Article Hero4

Essay

We May Not Unify, but We Can Reach across Differences

The idea of unity is a compassionate, hopeful aspiration for a country ravaged by a global pandemic, racial injustice, economic downturn and mob violence.

  • February 4th 2021

By Saat Alety and Tara Leweling

“Today … let us start afresh,” recently rang from the U.S. Capitol’s steps, along with calls for Americans to come together. The idea of unity is a compassionate, hopeful aspiration for a country ravaged by a global pandemic, racial injustice, economic downturn and mob violence in the inner sanctums of America’s democracy.

Yet left unanswered amid the soaring rhetoric is a nagging question: How?

Unity is a tall order, and poll after poll shows that Americans feel ill-equipped to pursue it, especially now. A recent study by the Pew Research Center indicated that only 13% of Biden supporters and 5% of Trump supporters mentioned unity or finding common ground when asked whether supporters of the other candidate understood people like them.

This insight is jarring, but not surprising, because seeking to understand others’ perspectives is not the norm in the United States. In fact, a recent survey by The Dialogue Project found only 25% of Americans often converse with people who have differing social and political views. At a time when leaders are asking Americans to listen to, see and hear each other, few are prepared to do so.

Also left unsaid in Washington? Before the nation can unify, it first needs to heal.

Better Arguments

Healing starts with dialogue. However, talking with each other, not at each other, on issues that divide us requires changing our mindset. Only then will it be possible to renew America together.

That’s why Allstate, along with The Aspen Institute and Facing History and Ourselves, created The Better Arguments Project. By changing the way we engage, it’s possible to create a forum for conversations that embrace lived experiences with courage, humility and vulnerability.

The project’s framework is built on five key principles:

· Take Winning Off the Table – Rather than arguing to win, seek to understand different perspectives.

· Prioritize Relationships and Listen Passionately – Put relationships at the center. Listen to learn.

· Pay Attention to Context – Acknowledge context. Make varied perspectives and points of view more accessible.

· Embrace Vulnerability – Allow space to be vulnerable. Build trust and improve capacity to connect with others.

· Make Room to Transform – Enter the conversation from the perspective that personal transformation and stronger community bonds are possible.

The Better Arguments Project framework, tools and resources are designed to proactively guide and facilitate dialogue on difficult issues, especially when people don’t agree. Putting the principles into practice helps us become more effective changemakers.

Be Bold: Dialogue in the Workplace

Arguing better shouldn’t be confined to community dialogue. Business has a role in bringing people together too.

Social networks often favor those who think, look and act similarly. Businesses are just the opposite, thriving when they rely on and embrace diversity in all forms. In fact, the workplace is one of the few settings in society where people spanning the ideological spectrum come together in common purpose.

What if businesses played a more active role in bringing people together to discuss their differences? While only 25% of U.S. adults report speaking regularly with those whose social and political views differ from their own, they may not be accounting for work colleagues.

The workplace offers a ready-made forum for challenging but necessary conversations to take place.

We know this firsthand. We’re two leaders who agree on many things, but not everything, in part due to our differing political affiliations. Yet we work together on tough issues at one of America’s most iconic companies.

This experience gives us hope that e pluribus unum is possible, even in a time of rancor and division. By committing to argue better, we can engage in rich dialogue not in spite of our differences, but because of them.

Striving to Perfect Our Union

Unity is an audacious and laudable ambition, particularly in a climate where millions watched horrified as rhetoric gave way to violence in the U.S. Capitol. And while unity may feel far afield in this moment, we think it’s possible to make progress. Our inspiration is the countless Americans coming together from all walks of life to unite with their colleagues in shared purpose.

So, let us begin.

How?

By arguing better … together.

Saat Alety is Director, Federal Affairs and Public Policy, at Allstate. He previously served in the office of Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina.  

Tara Leweling is a Vice President in Corporate Brand at Allstate. She is a military veteran who has been a policy volunteer on political campaigns for the other side of the aisle.

For more information about The Better Arguments Project, please visit www.BetterArguments.org or email us at betterarguments@aspeninstitute.org.

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