Better Angels sessions are not about changing anyone’s mind. Instead, they’re about building little platoons (to use the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke’s term) of people who will do the hard work of listening to one another. Modern psychology says that a good way to build solidarity among diverse people is to give them a project to do together, hands-on and face-to-face. For Better Angels, learning to talk to — instead of past — each other is just such a project.
I am a Better Angels board member and contributor, so I’m an interested party. I’ll admit, though, that I initially had doubts that the workshop model could bring about significant change. In a huge country drenched in hyper-partisan social media and split into contending epistemic bubbles, can a handful of people in a VFW hall really matter? Workshops take hours at a minimum, and up to a couple of days. They need volunteer organizers and recruiters. Could such a labor-intensive program be scaled?
As it turns out, the program is scaling itself. Participants often find the experience of making contact with the “other” inspiring and transformative.