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COLUMN: Fighting political extremism

By: RACHEL STOVALL
April 11, 2018 Updated: April 11, 2018 at 5:55 am
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I saw the most intriguing thing on television recently. I must admit, I don't enjoy television news right now. So few news hosts just report the news any more, preferring to throw in politically polarized monologues, opinions and sarcastic comments. It is as though most television newscasts are a newspaper opinion page!

But this show just grabbed me. GOP Rep. Troy Gowdy and GOP Sen, Tim Scott were the guests. They were talking about a book that they have co-written called, "Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country." Apparently, they wrote this book hoping to heal our country from its deep divisions.

Both of these men represent the state of South Carolina in Congress. As many of you may remember, the South Carolina city of Charleston was rocked by a racially motivated church shooting in 2015. The shooter hoped to spark a race war. Instead, because of the tragedy, these leaders are encouraging others to reach across all kinds of divisions and become friends.

The two friends are a study in contrasts. One grew up in an affluent doctor's household. The other in the home of a poor, but hardworking single mother. One is white. The other is black. They describe themselves as having some deep disagreements politically.

When asked "Why write the book?" Gowdy answered, "So we can talk to one another, find the things we have in common, instead of racing to the conflict, (which is commercially successful) and you get a lot of clicks. It's just destroying our country." Both agree that increasing political polarization has become a danger to the American way of life.

Says Scott, "Polarization is perhaps one of the greatest national security issues we have in this country - that if we allow the polarization to continue in this country, those outside of this country that want to bring harm will .. The Russians did that during the 2016 election. They focused on the opportunity to sow seeds of discord..."

Political extremism hurts our nation. We can't solve problems if we can't agree. And agreement rarely happens in the all-or-nothing atmosphere of extremely polarized politics.

We must leave this broad road of political toxicity and find the narrow path back to being one nation. The lawmakers from South Carolina have it right. We need unlikely friendships, right here in Colorado.

Have you heard of Food for Thought?

The Food for Thought program is a short series of moderated conversations among people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Topics are discussed over dinner with the support of ground rules and a neutral facilitator. Food for Thought is a forum for understanding with emphasis on learning and listening.

The goal of Food for Thought is quite simple. Civil discourse is encouraged with respectful, curious, and nonjudgmental conversation.

Groups commit to meeting about once a month over about six months. At the end of this time, the group can continue meeting without assigned facilitators, disband or members can decide to join another group. Some of these groups have been meeting for 18 years.

Anyone can participate in Food for Thought, but the facilitator I met with described a specific desire for evangelicals, conservatives, and Republicans.

Prospective new members fill out a survey. The survey data is used to create a mix of ideas in the group. The objective is to know each other rather than trying to persuade or change each other.

In their book "Unified", Sen. Scott and Rep. Gowdy, through honesty and vulnerability, inspire others in the nation to evaluate their own stories, clean the slate, and extend a hand of friendship that can change churches, communities, and the world.

Food for Thought discussions creates a space where participants can be authentic, share their stories and extend a listening ear. Following the example of Gowdy and Scott, some of us could - partnered with Food For Thought - create unlikely friendships that can improve our city one small group at a time.

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Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.

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