Putting The United Back Into The United States: Ardell Broadbent On The 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society
If you haven’t been, be kinder to yourself. That doesn’t mean indulgence. That means if you’ve been taught to be harsh and unforgiving of your mistakes or shortfalls, you’re going to subconsciously have similar judgements of others. Try to extend some compassion to both yourself and others.
As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ardell Broadbent.
Ardell Broadbent has a Master’s Degree in Psychology. She is currently marketing and expanding on a game-based politics curriculum. The intent is to provide a platform for lighthearted discussion and understanding of the strengths and contribution of the four largest parties, with the intent of transcending the entrenched divisiveness of public media messages. She served seven years as a board member and one year as president of La Vereda, a community-centered non-profit in Del Norte, Colorado. She is a court-rostered mediator.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! I have no pretensions about bridging the divide between politicians, or between partisan media outlets. But I’d love to discuss the divide that is occurring between families, co workers, and friends. Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your experience about how family or friends have become a bit alienated because of the partisan atmosphere?
Yes. I have a sister and brother who don’t talk to each other anymore. There are a lot of similarities between them. They are only two years apart in age, both have four kids, belong to the same church, and make their kids take music lessons. My sister’s family is in some ways a typical liberal city-dwelling family, drives a hybrid, eats vegan, and posted Bernie signs. My daughter and I lived with them eight months in their mother-in-law apartment, so we know their beliefs pretty well. Prior to the pandemic, they refused to visit the family home for gatherings because of my brother who lives there with his family. It’s rural. Although my brother and sister-in-law both work other jobs, they keep a small hobby farm and have a few horses. She processes chickens herself. I lived in the separate unit of the house for two summers, and there wasn’t any soundproofing. I pretty much know their business, and I consider them responsible parents. But the issue for my sister was that they let their children own and handle guns, and reportedly one wasn’t put away at a time that my sister visited. The gun issue is just a symbol of a rift that seems political, to the point that they couldn’t talk to work out an agreement. The family helped work out an agreement about guns put away at family gatherings, but there wasn’t trust that it would be adhered to.
Before we go further into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Yes. It’s actually relevant to the topic. I’ve lived in a variety of locations or communities that epitomize the four largest political parties of the U.S.
- I was raised in semi-rural staunchly conservative and religious community, in Utah, which for nearly six decades has voted Republican.
- In college I fell in with a crowd who supported every conservationist cause. The value of frugality and long-term planning fit with my pioneer heritage. This immersed me in Green party ideologies. During and after the college roommate communes, many of us continued these ecologically conscious ideals including permaculture gardens, green architecture, minimalism, and beekeeping.
- Next I became conscious of Democrat ideals. A couple of years prior to and during my graduate studies I lived in large cities where I grew to appreciate public transit, worked for government social services, and benefited from federal school loans. I married a public school teacher who became a professor of multicultural education, and I had a minor in multicultural and women’s issues from my undergraduate degree as well. I lived in Los Angeles for 5 years, the epitome of ethnic and cultural diversity, working closely with clients of a variety of nationalities.
- Then back to Green. I wanted to raise my daughter in a location that offered more connection to nature and a sense of community. Her earliest schooling was in the small town of Crestone Colorado, a unique place that grew out of a land grant donation to any certifiable major religion. An ashram, zen center, native American ceremonial group, and monastery, brought a variety of experiences to the community. Tie dye, music festivals, new age spiritual beliefs, UFO sightings, government conspiracy theory like chem trails, and abundant cannabis use were all part of the culture.
- I’ve also had a solid Libertarian training. At one point I lived in a small mountain town that to me represents this outlook. My cousin in LA tells me I just am not acquainted with the urban libertarian type, and she’s right, but anyway, I’m thinking of a friend describing a road trip during which they saw Hillary signs in every city and only Trump signs in between. The insistence on self-sufficiency, in addition to some lack of economic opportunity, created a specific look characterized by a lot of rusted metal and weathered wood. The look of the town was wild west, with garages or yards of hoarded clutter subject to neighborly sharing. There and in nearby communities I had friends with family-owned ranches, small farms, cottage industries such as cheese-making, the type of artisan work that big business continues to push out of the market. They value their independent livelihoods and tend to be fiscally conservative, but they can’t compete with the low prices offered by government-subsidized big agribusiness. This worldview ties back into my childhood. My dad was a prepper and John Bircher, intent on raising a family without negative cultural influences such as TV and popular music. I grew up hearing about the illuminati, the mark of the beast, and the new world order.
So I’ve been in more than one bubble.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I developed a set of games to help give a platform for families, friends, classrooms, or any small group to have a more lighthearted way to discuss politics. These are role-playing games. You can take a stance and explore ideas without wondering if others will think you are deluded or evil, because you’re just playing. The website is fractioNation.US. For the most part, it’s not presenting you with prepackaged ideas but inviting you to respectfully debate, to share examples and experiences, or figure out a compromise.
What or who inspired you to pursue this interest?
It was my daughter. She was 11 in 2015, and I was trying to figure out how to help her understand the issues she was hearing about, in a way that didn’t dumb it down but also wasn’t so complicated. I found it was really fun to work on game-based learning, and it just took on a life of its own even though I didn’t really have time for another project.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
As far as the games project, there was a local game-maker’s guild that would get together weekly to playtest each other’s games, and they had a lot of good feedback and encouragement.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Can’t think of anything relevant.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Lemme mention one relevant to this topic. The title is We Must Not Be Enemies, by Micheal Austin. The title is from a quote by Abraham Lincoln. You can get a good overview on the Amazon description of the book. Among his main points are that we need to learn how to be better friends with people we disagree with. I’ve tried to do that. It has been maddening sometimes. Also, he says we should argue for things and not just against things. Be part of a solution, rather than opposing others’ solutions.
Another is Cultivating Peace by James O’Dea, who was the Washington DC director of Amnesty International. That book influenced me to go thru training to become a court-rostered mediator.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
There’s one framework that has been important for me while working on this project. It’s Carol Sanford’s idea of four levels of operating an organization. The lowest level is extracting value: You try to get as much out as you can while putting in as little as necessary. It’s a self-serving strategy, and it is often a short-term strategy. An example in the energy business would be continuing to extract and burn coal to convert to electric. The next level is arrest disorder. You try to stop some of the damaging effects while you’re extracting value. You provide housing and reparation to those whose family members died from black lung, and use better smokestack filters to stop externalizing costs. Better than that is a commitment to do good. Here you try to adopt best practices in the business. You might build some solar farms or windmills and try to phase out fossil fuels. You may even reverse some of the damage by planting trees. But solar and wind tech have their own extractive impact. The top level is regenerative, meaning to use systems thinking to consider how the various parts work, and how to heal. In this case, we would look at the regulation of insulative values for buildings, include rooftop solar costs in the mortgage to avoid power loss thru transmission lines, use glass brick windows for lighting and passive solar heating, and in general use structural design to maximize comfort and minimize the need for external energy.
So applying this principle to politics, we wouldn’t be trying to drain the swamp. We would look at how the political system incentivizes behaviors that are exploitative, on both sides. We would look at how the economic system interacts with the political system, on both sides. On the “do good” level we could work on election reform to enable third party candidates or examine the strengths of other nations that are functioning as social democracies, to adopt best practices. On the regenerative level, we notice that fundamentally it is the doctrine that “greed is good,” “might makes right,” and “winner takes all” that has permitted a culture of exploitation to become accepted, which has damaged trust in business interactions, replaced it with reliance on lawyers, and obliterated the social contract. Then we can start the slow work of rebuilding culture at the level of values.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
The organizational leadership literature has an important distinction between position power, which is more a manager role, and leadership, which is more an influencer role that doesn’t necessarily rely on position power. Obviously, you can be both at the same time, but everyone with position power I believe should strive to not exert coercive power but to instead influence by example and persuasion. When you think about the people who have made an important positive impact on your life, it’s more likely to be a family member, a school teacher, or a mentor rather than someone famous. I love Brene Brown’s books on leadership, including Braving the Wilderness, which talks a lot about not allowing yourself to be pigeonholed into one side or the other. There’s a lot about being truthful and respectful, which is both daring and vulnerable.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The polarization in our country has become so extreme that families have been torn apart. Erstwhile close friends have not spoken to each other because of strong partisan differences. This is likely a huge topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Collectively we’ve been living beyond our means, and we could argue whether it’s because of peak oil or the growing wealth disparity, but as the easy credit dried up, many are getting uncomfortable if they’re not already at the point of barely scraping by. At the same time, we see so many on social media living enviable lives, and a lot of people feel the economic opportunities are unfairly distributed. However, few have the time to really dig into the historical trends of economics and social changes that got us here, so instead we play a blame game. It’s easier to pass along phrases that are partly true and that jive with our views than to take a balanced perspective.
In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?
Well, this is where I can put in another plug for those educational games. With my politically diverse family, there was one time we assigned everyone to play the political role pretty much the opposite of what we knew them to be. It was fun, and I came away from it realizing that those whose views are most different from mine knew more about my favored positions than I thought they did. I also played many times with my mom, because who else would have enough patience and love to playtest games over and over? We both learned a lot. She has never voted the same as me, but we began to see that we had a lot more areas of agreement than we had differences.
How about the workplace, what can be done to bridge the partisan divide that has fractured relationships there? Can you please share a story or example?
One of my sisters deleted her Facebook account because she was using up too much time arguing on social media and just couldn’t quit the habit. Even if you make a snappy comeback and feel some satisfaction from it, it isn’t helping you or them if it’s antagonistic. You just make people more defensive and dug in. That adage from educators applies: “They don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.”
I think one of the causes of our divide comes from the fact that many of us see a political affiliation as the primary way to self identify. But of course there are many other ways to self identify. What do you think can be done to address this?
Focus on something we can all agree on. Everybody from every party can agree that human trafficking is wrong, and it’s a lot more pervasive than most are aware. Let’s unite to work on something we agree on and table the other discussions until we fix that.
Much ink has been spilled about how social media companies and partisan media companies continue to make money off creating a split in our society. Sadly the cat is out of the bag and at least in the near term there is no turning back. Social media and partisan media have a vested interest in maintaining the divide, but as individuals none of us benefit by continuing this conflict. What can we do moving forward to not let social media divide us?
There are some great movies that are entertaining and also show nuances of social and political stances, and people’s interactions around them. Crash is a brilliant example, super relevant to the current conversations. Beware of Children is a more recent one.
What can we do moving forward to not let partisan media pundits divide us?
We can try to find the most unbiased news sources possible using monitors such as allsides.com. Don’t support other news outlets.
Sadly we have reached a fevered pitch where it seems that the greatest existential catastrophe that can happen to our country is that “the other side” seizes power. We tend to lose sight of the fact that as a society and as a planet we face more immediate dangers. What can we do to lower the ante a bit and not make every small election cycle a battle for the “very existence of our country”?
This is not going to be the answer you want to hear. The problem isn’t out there. It’s inside each of us. I don’t think there’s any way to lower the ante beside becoming more mature ourselves, and getting our own anxiety under control. If we’re less reactive and less antagonistic, then those we talk to won’t be as threatened. Also we won’t be bothered as much by the idea of deluded people who need to be persuaded or stopped. We don’t want to be stressed out by something we have almost no control over. We can work toward our own version of a solution without convincing the opposition. I also wonder if it’s not as bad as it sounds from the media. Those with extreme positions get a lot of press, but they don’t represent the majority.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
First, if you haven’t been, be kinder to yourself. That doesn’t mean indulgence. That means if you’ve been taught to be harsh and unforgiving of your mistakes or shortfalls, you’re going to subconsciously have similar judgements of others. Try to extend some compassion to both yourself and others.
Second, set boundaries. Boundaries show self respect. I love how Brene Brown insists that “clear is kind.” Don’t make others guess. This can reduce the potential for hurt feelings and conflict. Without making others wrong for their views, you can say “that doesn’t work for me” or “that’s not a topic I’m open to discussing.” Get some support if some aren’t respecting your boundaries.
Third, see if you can get some mediation or therapy to work through whatever rifts you have between members of your family. This may seem harder than fixing the national political divide, but it’s where unity starts. There’s no guarantee, but you can at least know you gave it a chance. Again I love Brene Brown’s reminder that family isn’t replaceable. It’s not your political allies who are going to help watch your sick kid or join in to help pay for a family member’s rehab.
Fourth, once your own backyard is tidied up, you might be ready to expand your influence. Find how you can contribute your talent and interests to make your neighborhood better, maybe thru clubs, church groups, activist groups that are non-violent, or just a volunteer effort that your workplace or social group might take on. For example, as a way to unite in an important goal that isn’t politically charged, on the website fractioNation.US there’s a free download of a role-playing game that helps talk thru emergency preparedness by setting up potential disaster scenarios that you have to navigate with limited supplies.
If you manage to do the first four, then it might be time to get even more involved locally in your community. You might attend local government meetings. You might hire a local mediator to guide a discussion between two groups that have been at odds about a local issue. This is where it counts, where you can actually make a difference. Trading insults on social media is not how you can make an impact in changing anyone’s mind. This is where it becomes obvious the need to speak respectfully face to face. James O’Dea, an author mentioned earlier, said that when faced with another’s rage, an important question to diffuse the situation is, “What do you need me to understand?”
Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?
Every major religion has some version of the perennial philosophy, to treat others as you would want to be treated, which means offering respect even if and when we need to set boundaries.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am optimistic. I think it might get worse before it gets better, but I am confident in the overall trajectory of cultural evolution. It might be that climate change, wealth disparity, loneliness, and the mental health epidemic all becomes so challenging that we quit focusing on trivialities and pull together.
If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our society, like you, what would you tell them?
There’s an organization called Cultures of Dignity that’s created resources especially for young people, to help them emotionally deal with tough cultural issues, including politics. I would point them to resources they can access online.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
What a helpful question! I’d say Jo Jorgensen who was the Libertarian party’s presidential nominee AND Ralf Nader, who of course was the Green party presidential candidate a while back. I’d want to get them at the same table to see where they could agree and possibly unify the anti-establishment. That could provide us with a qualified candidate who stands a chance of challenging the duopoly.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’ve got a lot of projects going, but relevant to this topic, check out fractioNation.US, or Google-search my name.
Putting The United Back Into The United States: Ardell Broadbent On The 5 Things That Each Of Us… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.