Disagreement in America: What’s Your Story?

The Seattle Times (Seattle, WA), April 25, 2005


Meaningful civil disagreement — the kind that fosters understanding, opens minds, locates common ground, undergirds democracy — requires meaningful personal engagement across the divide.

“It’s incredibly hard work,” says Bob Perkins, a Seattle carpenter who believes that the country would prosper if more of us took it on. To that end, he has launched the Purple Bracelet Project (www.letsswapstories.org ), which involves rubber bracelets, emblazoned with the words “Let’s Swap Stories,” in the hue that results when red and blue get together.

“The bracelet would be worn by people who want to demonstrate a willingness to share their stories with others, especially with people whose political ideas they disagree with,” Perkins explains. “That’s the whole idea. Not conversion, but conversation. Dialogue, not diatribe. Friendly, honest and direct debate, rooted in respect and the ability to listen.”

“The ‘Let’s Swap Stories’ campaign asks folks to share why they believe it,” Perkins explains. “For me, that emphasis on one’s personal story and how it shapes what one believes is a critical part of fostering understanding.”

To illustrate, Perkins relates a story he heard about a young John Kerry supporter asking his dad why he voted for President Bush. Turns out the father felt that the incumbent stood a better chance of protecting them should a terrorist target the nuclear power plant near his home.

“The son realized that even though he didn’t agree with his dad, his dad had a story that made his vote reasonable, at least to him,” Perkins says. “The dad’s explanation taught the son that people who voted the other way weren’t crazy; they were just coming to their decision from a different story.”

Subjects Covered: diversity training

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