The political spectrum is broader than ever with conservatives on one end and liberab Democrats like Bob Scheier on the other. Scheier wants both ends to meet in the middle.
Scheier thinks he has a way to soar above the social and mainstream media storm swirling around former president Donald Trump and fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Swampscott resident is co-chair of the New England chapter of Braver Angels, a national group consisting of more than 11,000 members that was formed after Trump’s 2016 election as a way for people in opposing parties to learn to hear each other out and respect each other’s differing views in a civil way.
Scheier’s co-chair is state Rep. Lenny Mirra, a Georgetown Republican, who stands at the other end of the political spectrum from Scheier. Braver Angels strives for an equal liberal and conservative membership, as well as leadership structure, to offer views and opinions from both sides of the political spectrum.
“Many Braver Angels groups around the country are predominantly blue, or liberal leaning, and we really need many more strong conservatives so that we can have the genuinely challenging but rewarding conversations that we need,” Scheier said.
The Angels’ mission is to reach out to groups that are more conservative, with a promise their members won’t be shouted down, shamed, or attacked during political discourse.
The group’s monthly meetings commence with a reaffirmation by participants to confirm that they will engage in respectful, curious listening. The penalty for noncompliance? A polite request to leave the meeting.
“We guarantee everyone a respectful hearing if they come in and we encourage them to live up to the Braver Angels name,” Scheier said. “It’s called Braver Angels because it takes courage to reach out to the other side and to take the risk of being heard by the other side, but it’s very rewarding.”
As co-chair, Scheier is responsible for helping volunteers create, schedule, and run the monthly meetings, which occur on the third Monday of each month.
Each monthly meeting features a different topic. Prior to the meeting, news articles are sent out for people to review and be prepared to discuss in the meeting.
Braver Angels was founded by a family therapist and uses therapeutic-like techniques to facilitate respectful conversations with both political sides.
“We don’t try to convince each other; there is no interruption; there is no attempt to convince allowed,” Scheier said. “The idea is that we form human relationships with people on the other side and we listen and be curious about how they think and the same in return.”
Of course, COVID-19 restrictions, vaccinations, and masking occupied a meeting discussion. Scheier is pro-vaccine and pro-masking, but other discussion participants voiced strong, opposing views.
“I found that by listening and trying to understand their views, I was able to see that these folks weren’t living in some other reality from me,” Scheier said. “They had some very heartfelt concerns, not concerns that I shared, but were coming from a different perspective and were skeptical about what the government and drug companies were trying to do and the quality of the vaccines.”
Scheier said his views were welcomed and respectfully listened to by meeting participants.
“How often do you have a conversation like that about a heated topic, and the other side asks you to tell you what you think?” Scheier said. “I felt like him and I could sit down and come to a mutual solution on something like the COVID issue after that.”
In an effort to broaden their conversations, the New England chapter of Braver Angels has reached out to local colleges in an effort to provide information and awareness of the group.
“They’re the ones who will have to live in the society that we are hoping to improve,” Scheier said.
Scheier said he has one overriding reason for taking part in Braver Angels: This isn’t the country that he grew up in, and it isn’t the country he wants to leave to his children and grandchildren.
He wants to be more involved in changing the trajectory of the country’s political divide, and he wants to understand how people on the other side – Republicans — think the way they do, and to see if there was a way to have a respectful conversation with them.
“I don’t know exactly how I stumbled across Braver Angels but when I saw their approach, I was very impressed with it,” Scheier said. “It works… It’s one small step towards healing the divides in our country.”
Engaging in these kinds of civil conversations has led Scheier to having more respect and understanding in similar political conversations with friends and family outside of the group.
“I became more involved in the past year as I became concerned about the breakdown of civility in society and the very sharp splits between the quote ‘red and blue sides,’” Scheier said. “I feel like our democracy is really in danger if we can’t at least speak respectfully to each other, if we can’t even agree on the same set of facts, and if people on both sides of the political divide are dehumanizing each other.”
Braver Angels is open to everyone regardless of age, sex, race, religion, culture and sexual identification.
To learn more or to join the New England Chapter of Braver Angels, visit https://mailchi.mp/braverangels/greater-boston-email-list.