American Civic Life

One Simple Thing You Can Do Today to Address Division  

Group of volunteers organizing food donations onto tables at a food bank. (SolStock/Getty Images)

Group of volunteers organizing food donations onto tables at a food bank. (SolStock/Getty Images)

These days, most Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. you can find me in the same place, and it may not be what you would expect of an early 30-something living in Denver.

No, it’s not brunching with friends, hitting the slopes (confession: I never learned to ski or snowboard, but snowshoeing is great!), or sleeping in late. No, every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. I am joyfully splashing in the shallow end of my local recreation center with at least thirty other people in an all-levels water aerobics class.  

I’ve become friendly with many of my classmates. They are people from their twenties to their seventies, who speak many languages, come from a plethora of backgrounds, and as has become clear, believe many different things. Earlier this year Denver’s Mayor made cuts to the city’s budget in order to help Denver absorb an influx of migrants. These cuts meant places like the recreation center we all enjoyed cut back on their hours and reduced their classes. Grabbing our pool noodles and water weights, or in the locker room afterwards, there were more than a few awkward interactions and stilted conversations on the recent changes as my classmates and I privately wrestled with our opinions on the best ways for the city to address the wave of newcomers.  

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. 

Despite the many hours we had spent together playing in the water to upbeat tunes from the 1980’s, in those moments where deeper worldview diversity surfaced, things felt differently. It felt as if the world of possible interactions contracted into just two options: 1) entirely disengage from each other and avoid conversations about our differences, or 2) dig our heels in and launch into reasons why our views were superior and others were ill-informed at best. With election season kicking into higher gear and many of us feeling the effects of polarization, this dynamic is probably familiar to you.  

But, what if the diversity of worldviews, politics, and backgrounds in communities across the country – from water aerobics classes, to parent teacher associations, to interactions at the grocery store, to the basketball court – can instead be harnessed to enrich our nation rather than divide it? 

We Can Build Bridges

That question is exactly what Interfaith America’s latest online course, We Can Build Bridges, seeks to answer. Where there is difference, there is need for bridgebuilders: citizens with the mindset and skills to harness diversity into cooperation for the common good. 

We Can Build Bridges is a 45- to 60-minute interactive, online course hosted by our partners at ReligionAndPublicLife.org and offers a low-lift first step for any of us to engage – whether you are committed to building bridges or you are simply curious. The course can be started and stopped as many times as you would like and includes definitions of bridgebuilding and real-life examples of mutually inspiring, respectful relationships that foster cooperation across difference. 

At a time when it can feel like our divisions are intractable and there is no space for something else, We Can Build Bridges proposes otherwise. Ultimately, bridgebuilding does not require big actions or giving up our deeply held beliefs. It simply begins with a desire to learn more. Taking the course is one small step we can all take, right now, to grow our sense of what is possible — to see the ways that, as the course title offers, we can build bridges in the face of meaningful difference.  

While Denver’s recreation centers have since returned to their normal operations, I’m reflecting on what I can do or think next time our community faces a challenge and different perspectives are revealed. The Buddha says, “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.” So, I’m presently thinking about small moments where I can welcome conversation and build from shared values – like safe shelter for everyone, and ease of access to play and movement. We might not all agree on how to accomplish these worthy goals, but believing in the possibility of cooperating to achieve them is certainly the first step. 

Whatever the challenges your community is facing, or the people you spend your Saturday mornings with, taking We Can Build Bridges is an easy way to explore diversity as a treasure and to choose cooperation over division. 

Marley Pierce is a Program Manager at Interfaith America.