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Sturman: Talking Politics

I must have been crazy to invite a bunch of political junkies to form a biweekly discussion group in such partisan times. But, four years ago, I invited some male friends – mostly academic types – to get-togethers in which each participant would lead a session on a current topic in the news. And, I added that I hoped we could all learn something new at these sessions. Naturally, I reassured them I would strive to represent all bands of the political spectrum. “From center/left to left of center to far left of center,” I said with tongue planted firmly in cheek. But until I was willing to truly reach across the aisle – my creation was destined to become good but not great. In fact, it didn’t really take off until I invited a former Republican State Senator AND a fiscally conservative CPA to join us.

Before committing himself, the State Senator offered a cautionary note: “I'm always interested in talking with folks who genuinely want to help me understand their perspectives - and have the openness of heart and mind to want to understand mine as well. Respectful dialogue among peers," he concluded, "would be a welcome antidote to the shrill tone of political discourse today.”

Now, eighty meetings later, and against all odds, we've succeeded in becoming that “welcome antidote” my friend yearned for. Of course, there have been a few bumps along the way.

Early on, as we tackled topics like immigration reform and gun control, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the expression, “You really think that way?” Or to hear someone accused of “partisan posturing” or “point scoring.”

But mostly we’ve taken both great pleasure in each other’s company and great satisfaction in being able to exchange views politely, with mutual trust and respect. And along the way we’ve re-discovered that what unites us far exceeds what divides us. Often the most conservative and the most progressive members of our group arrive at similar conclusions from wildly different directions.

In recent months, we’ve wandered far afield from our original preoccupation with political horse races, talking about… well, every subject under the sun. We’ve shared our convictions about race and faith, participated in a “blind brew tasting” and discussed whether or not wealth is a real and common good.

With another presidential election cycle now underway, I sincerely wish this model of open, reflective and informed discourse could be replicated in the body politic as a whole.

I know. I must be crazy.

Thetford resident Skip Sturman is a retired college administrator and free lance writer.
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