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November 2020

Braver Angels and coming together after the election; marriage counseling techniques to bridge the political divide; CHEMMites.

Welcome to the November edition of Tips and Topics.  For readers in the USA, may you have a safe, joyful and meaningful Thanksgiving whether you are together with your loved ones in person or online.

In SAVVY, I just learnt about a group called Braver Angels, an initiative to heal America in the aftermath of the 2020 election. I connect you to them in hopes you may be interested.

In SKILLS, I summarize techniques and tips based on marriage counseling skills that Braver Angels has found effective in bridging political gaps.  These skills apply across all conflicts to improve understanding and empathy.

In SOUL, I share WhatsApp texts with my longtime childhood friends in Australia when they asked me about the Presidential election.


On Election Day, November 3, 2020, I tuned into Here & Now on National Public Radio and was fascinated to hear an interview with John Wood Jr., a national leader with the group Braver Angels, and a former chair of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County.

I’d never heard of Braver Angels and when I checked their website, the Home page declares:

With Malice Toward None

Coming together after the election

“With Malice Toward None is an initiative to heal America in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Religious congregations, colleges, civic organizations, and small groups of friends and neighbors are invited to organize gatherings (online or in-person) for their members during the post-election period. In these gatherings, Americans consider how they want to regard their fellow citizens who voted differently and begin building the capacity of We the People to forge “a more perfect union” moving into 2021.”

I don’t know about you, but I am ‘oh so ready’ for us all to come together as a nation – and that was way before the election was over.

Tip 1

Listen for yourself to “Facilitating Civil Conversations About Politics” also online as “Braver Angels Teaches People On Opposite Ends Of The Political Divide To Converse Civilly

This 9 minute, 46 seconds program aired on November 3, 2020 and quoted a recent study of 2,000 people that found that 62% felt they couldn’t express political opinions without offending someone. 

In the interview, John Wood Jr., talks about an initiative that began in 2016, to bring Republicans and Democrats together.  They used marriage counseling techniques and applied them to improving conversations between conservatives and progressives.

In SKILLS, I’ll summarize the techniques and tips he outlined in the interview.


Here are the techniques and tips that John Wood found were effective in bridging political gaps that we all face. I have paraphrased his experience and wisdom, so these are his tips, not mine. While this is focused on political divides, these skills are applicable to conflicts in behavioral health as well.

Tip 1

A stereotypes exercise: Each side lists out the stereotypes that the other side has about them; and then both sides reflect on what kernels of truth may be there.

Each political group has a sense of the ‘other’ side, but it gets filtered through the media. So this exercise seeks to bring the conversation to one-on-one sharing that opens up understanding and healing.


1. Conservatives will say we are not racist folks by and large (a Stereotype), but there are some racist factions that attach themselves to our party.  We should not make this space a comfortable one for them (Kernels of truth).

2. Folks on the Left will say we’re not wanting the Government to run everything and we are not people who mooch off the State (a Stereotype).  But there are some people who game the system and take advantage of welfare etc. (Kernels of truth).


Deep evangelical Christians became friends with Muslims and immigrants – people with dramatically different politics. There are techniques we can use that allow us to communicate across these divides while maximizing our abilitiy to preserve relationships as Americans.

Tip 2

If talking about politics, frame your statements not as “truth” statements but as “I” statements.


If you approach the conversation with: 

1. “Well it’s just a fact that Donald Trump has had the best economy of all time” (Truth statement). Or “It’s just a fact that Barack Obama has done more for healthcare than any Republican would ever dream” (Truth statement).  

This puts the other person on the defensive and creates the need to respond to save face; to win the argument; to protect their team – they’re no longer listening.

2. Do this instead: “In my view, President Trump has been good for the economy” (An “I” statement). Or “From what I’ve learned, it really seems Barack Obama has pushed healthcare forward in America and I think Joe Biden will build on that.” (An “I” statement). 

When you introduce your own subjectivity, it signals a certain humility that opens up space for the other person to be heard.

Tip 3

Sometimes it is best to remain silent, not react and maintain the peace.


If a person said something like “Just because you went to college and I didn’t, that doesn’t mean I’m stupid and don’t know what’s going on in the world.  You city folk with all your fancy college degrees think you know everything.”  

It might be best to just listen, empathize in your mind with how the person feels judged and be silent.

Tip 4

Paraphrase statements the other side may make in a way that reflects the language the other person might actually use to say it. 

You don’t have to agree with the statement. But if you make the effort to paraphrase it in a way that reflects how the other person really feels, it can open up understanding and empathy.


If talking to a Conservative who is in favor of lowering taxes, the wrong way to say it would be: “OK so you think by giving greedy, rich people more money that in some way that is going to make life better for poor people.”

Paraphrase it: “OK so I hear you saying that by allowing people to keep more of their own money, they’ll be able to invest more into the economy and that will create more jobs for everybody, including lower income folks.”

Tip 5

Share stories pulled from your own experience and community that have impacted your life.

These stories are more powerful and profound than rational arguments.  It adds context to the social and political position that you have and shows you are a human being.


1. Share a story of how people not following public health COVID-19 guidelines has impacted your life – a personal story of someone you know whose family was devastated when their loved one died in hospital and they couldn’t even be by their side at the end.

2. Or a person upset about the lock downs might share a tearful story of losing a family business that is now in financial ruin and bankrupt due to the severe lack of customers and revenue resulting from the lockdowns.

Tip 6

Be able to identify and reflect on the ways your side may fall short of the standards you hold; or the way your arguments may not be 100% spot on.

Introduce humility and some degree of reflection to your political point of view.  Then the other side is much more likely to believe you are serious about being honest.  


You may be arguing for single payer healthcare, and say “It’s my feeling that the Federal government is the best vehicle to provide health coverage for all Americans.  But I totally think that it is possible to expect too much from government (A point that falls short of your standards and not 100% spot on).  But on balance I think it would allow us to accomplish the aim of ensuring health care and quality of life for the most Americans.”

To truly build relationships and depolarize across the political divide we have to keep track of our thinking about Conservatives and Progressives. How can we not allow the stereotype to become the fixture in terms of how we see each other?


We call ourselves the CHEMM-ites. This is a group of my longtime childhood friends with whom I have vacationed for a week somewhere in Australia.  We started this annual reunion over ten years ago when I turned 60 and in between, we keep in touch on WhatsApp.

Each letter of “CHEMM” represents the initial letter of the surname of each of us in our group e.g., C = Catton; H = Hodgson; E = Evans and so on. (I’m not sure which one of us came up with the idea for our name.  Probably me because I love playing with words and acronyms like the 3 Ps5 Ss)

Here are WhatsApp texts after the November 3 election:


Just hope you get the changes you hope for David. Politics is a whole new game these days

My response:

Yes, it is easier said than done. Just hoping there is a return to more consensus building than constant conflict….. Some civility and statesmanship would be nice.  I hope there is a focus on unity not division.  Biden signaled that “I ran as a proud Democrat. I will now be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me — as those who did.” We’ll see if he actually does this.

As I reflect on we CHEMMites, we have such a rich history, tradition, and heritage together. Yet if we were to check off the major issues of God, spirituality, religion, politics, sexuality, globalization or nationalism, marriage, abortion, race relations, climate change, systematic racism, white privilege, etc etc, there is likely a diversity of beliefs at this stage of our lives.

But we come together each year with love and concern for each other. 

We have not had that kind of love and recognition of our common values and heritage, albeit with diversity in the USA.

Whether Trump is a symptom or cause of this, I don’t know…..Europe and other countries and even Australia is as divided as ever. This may all be symptomatic of causes way over my head.

My bottom line is that I wish for this country and the world the kind of love, with diversity, that we have with the CHEMMites.

End of speech!


Well said. I vote DML for president!


I second that motion Geoff.  How many electoral college votes can we find for DML?

My final response:

Thank-you voters for your support. However in the coming year I will focused on which beach to go to in Hawaii and booking trips to Australia and other countries if they ever let Americans anywhere near their borders.

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