American Civic Life

How to Navigate the Storms of Division

Hiker walks through a meadow in Colorado. (wanderluster/Getty Images)

Hiker walks through a meadow in Colorado. (wanderluster/Getty Images)

From recent movies, to the news we consume, to the boards that run our schools, we don’t have to look far to find evidence of polarization. In many ways, it feels like we are in the midst of a storm: we look for shelter to hunker down with people who think like we do, and we watch with intrigue, disbelief, or fear for the next lightning strike that could eventually burn everything. 

It makes me think of a hike I took with friends last summer. As we neared the peak of Mt. Massive, gray clouds gathered and thunder began to crack. To move through this storm and safely descend, we needed three things: vision, knowledge, and skills. The vision to operate from our values — like cooperation and safety — as we decided whether to turn back or keep going. The knowledge of how summer storms progress and the best practices for lightning safety. The skill to physically move faster and avoid obstacles during descent. 

Vision, knowledge, and skills are necessary for storms beyond those on a mountain. We need these same things to address the very real challenges our communities face. Whether it’s housing insecurity, pollution, community safety, or access to healthcare, we need people with the vision, knowledge, and skills to work across differences to identify shared values and act for the common good. 

We Can Build Bridges

This free, interactive online course shows bridgebuilding in action, defines the goals of bridgebuilding, and gives steps to build bridges in your own life. 

With this goal in mind, we are excited to introduce Bridgebuilder Basics, a collection of resources for anyone committed to building bridges with people different from themselves, or even just curious about what it means to choose cooperation over division.

Bridgebuilder Basics offers content for both learners and facilitators, presenting key definitions, real life examples, relevant social science research, and skills practice over two, sequential parts: 

During a time when 86% of Americans  believe “Republicans and Democrats are more focused on fighting each other than on solving problems,” it can feel daunting to know where to start. But the truth is, every one of us can contribute to building communities strengthened by our differences. We can start by acknowledging that cooperating with people different from us is not only possible, but worthwhile.

We hope that Bridgebuilder Basics can serve as a guidepost when the storms of division feel strong — a reminder that we can climb a mountain and find something more beautiful, and bigger than any one of us, just beyond the places we most comfortably reside. 

Marley Pierce is a Program Manager at Interfaith America.