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Program promotes civil discourse

January 28, 2019

Ledyard — For Harry Pearson of Gales Ferry, the nation’s current political state is  polarizing the entire country.

According to Pearson, learning how to communicate in a respectful, meaningful manner despite that, then, is very important.

Speaking in front of a room of a dozen-plus participants at Bill Library Sunday afternoon, the retired Electric Boat mechanical engineer offered an overview of the current political atmosphere and presented ideas on how to conduct meaningful civil discourse.

Pearson suggested that finding commonalities between one another and being willing to listen to a different point of view could help foster civil discourse.

“To fix this issue, we have to fix this. It starts at our level,” Pearson said.

“When we hear something that goes against our own views we can throw out a conversation stopper saying, “That’s bull,” Pearson said. “But that’s disrespectful and it either shuts down all conversation or starts an argument. That’s not productive. Instead, we can say, “I had come to a different conclusion about that issue. Please explain to me how you came to the conclusion that you did.’”

The event, which was hosted by the library after Pearson suggested he make a presentation about the topic late last year, ran for two hours and included a spirited, diplomatic discussion among the participants — a small seed that library director Gale Bradbury hopes will spread through the community. Bradbury said she hopes to host similar conversations in the future.

“I think this was a great start for a community conversation,” Bradbury said. “I thought it was an important topic to be discussed. Other than the Groton Public Library holding a similar event last fall, I haven’t heard of talks like this in the area. We wanted to start that here.”

For Pearson, who is the president of The Friends of Ledyard Libraries, the current state of the nation’s affairs fascinates him.

He said he often ponders why, in what seems like an increasingly divided country, people are now having difficulty communicating with and respecting each other.

In his 45-minute presentation, Pearson analyzed the idea of polarization from various perspectives, pointing out that polarization has always been a part of the country’s DNA, so to speak — beginning with the Revolutionary War and continuing through the Civil War, the McCarthy era and the Vietnam/Civil Rights era, and up until the present day. 

“We have to remember we’ve been here before,” he said. “And that what we are experiencing now is déjà vu all over again.”

Pearson pointed out that a confluence of factors, ranging from modern-day politics and media coverage, as well as differences in socioeconomics, can influence one’s lived experience and views on the world. He also spoke about the issues dividing the country and how he felt political parties were exploiting one-sided issues, such as abortion or immigration, to gain larger swaths of voters, deepening the divide.

“The political divide is really hot today,” Pearson said after his presentation. “This is about being able to actually have a conversation about the state of politics, conservative issues versus liberal issues, and being able to respect one another.”

“You hear stories about people not even being able to have a conversation across the Thanksgiving Day table,” he continued. “It seems like there are two outcomes now: you either say nothing or you fight. I just wasn’t satisfied with that, and I thought, ‘Well, this is something small I can do to help with that.’”

m.biekert@theday.com

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