How some N.H. residents are working to overcome the partisan divide, one conversation at a time
Lisa Coté and Travis Tripodi might not have found themselves in conversation if it weren’t for Braver Angels.
Coté, a progressive from the Seacoast area, and Tripodi, a conservative from Nashua, don’t have much in common when it comes to politics. But they were both drawn to the organization because it offered something they had trouble finding anywhere else: a space to build better relationships with people who think differently than they do.
Founded in the wake of the 2016 election, Braver Angels brings people from different ends of the political spectrum together for civil dialogue and debate amid increasing political polarization. It has chapters all across the country, including New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire Braver Angels chapter meets regularly for workshops and other conversations across ideological lines. Many of their meetings are online, which allows people from across the state to attend.
As Coté puts it, the goal of this work isn’t to “make purple” — to reach an agreement between conservative and progressive members of the organization. It’s about opening up lines of communication.
“It's about facilitating discussions between both sides and recognizing that we have more in common than what separates us,” Coté said.
This model was a natural fit for Coté, a former journalism student who said she’s always seeking answers.
“Some of my friends tell me I am the woman of infinite questions,” Coté said. “And I have a great deal of curiosity.”
But in recent years, she struggled to understand how people could hold viewpoints that seemed so contrary to what she thought was right. When she tried to get more context from the news media, she came up short. One party would throw a grenade into the other party’s foxhole. Back and forth. When she first went to a Braver Angels event in 2018, it seemed like a way to trade in the artillery for productive conversation.
Tripodi joined Braver Angels about a year ago, in hopes of de-escalating difficult political conversations in his own life. His search for a group like this came after he found himself in a social media exchange that seemed to illustrate the profound divide between people of different political leanings.
When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were nominated as the Democratic Party's presidential ticket in mid-2020, Tripodi wasn’t a fan — and he shared as much on social media. In response, he said a lifelong family friend called him a white supremacist.
“This woman used to change my diapers,” Tripodi said. “And now she's calling me a white supremacist. So, something [needed] to be done.”
At that moment, he said, something clicked. He knew he wanted to find a way toward better dialogue, and in Braver Angels, he found a “perfect fit.” Today, he’s so confident in the group’s model that he’s serving as its New Hampshire state coordinator.
Part of what works well about Braver Angels’ model, Tripodi said, is its parallels to marriage therapy. One of the organization’s founders has a background in that arena, and Tripodi said much of its programming mirrors the kind of counseling that might be offered to couples grappling with different points of view.
“The country is a lot like a marriage,” Tripodi said, “in that at the end of the day, we can fight, but we still have to live with each other.”
The therapy tactics infused into Braver Angels’ programming have helped Tripodi become more introspective. He said he’s now a better listener, even when he doesn’t agree with what the other person is saying. He also realized that sometimes, when a conversation isn’t going well, he’s the problem.
“I don't necessarily mean that I'm wrong,” Tripodi said. “But I do think that a lot of times when I'm having trouble communicating with somebody on the other side, it's because I'm not listening.”
Coté’s had some realizations, too. She learned to check her gut reactions to those with opposite points of view, like the people she’s gotten to know through Braver Angels.
“We're conditioned as if somebody doesn't agree with you, they're either stupid or evil,” Coté said. “So what happens when you start to have conversations is that you recognize that these people, who become like an extended family … are neither evil nor stupid.”
When those instinctive reactions get canceled out, she said, the only thing left to do is to listen.
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