Last Tuesday, Mark Gerzon held a lecture at the Josef Korbel Sie Complex entitled, “The Day After: How to Bridge the Partisan Divide No Matter Who Wins on Election Day.” Gerzon is an author, activist, conflict mediator and political thought leader specializing in trans-partisan conversations. The “day after” in the title obviously refers to November 9th, when America knows who our 44th president is and when republicans, democrats and independents will either celebrate or riot.
The audience for this lecture was a perfect mixture of old and new generations with a blended variety of viewpoints from all political parties, which perfectly complimented the basis of the lecture itself.
Gerzon was introduced by Tamra Pearson d’Estree who reported some statistics found by the Pew Research Center, stating that 92% of democrats were right of the medium democrat and 94% of republicans were left of the medium republic. Meaning, America is more politically divided than it’s ever been before.
Gerzon started the lecture discussing his personal transformation of political thought. He moved from his hometown in red state Indiana to go to Harvard in blue state Massachusetts. He worked with democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in a Yale political think-tank and said he argued a lot. His political ideology swung from hardcore-conservative to hardcore-liberal because he believed everyone had to choose one side or the other. He interpreted politics as picking a side, arguing against the other and trying to win. But he suggested there are other ways to love your country and to be an active citizen.
“There’s another America there than the red and blue America…How can we love something that’s at war with itself?” he asked.
He noticed that more politically polarized citizens are more involved in politics. That there are less ideologies overlapping and more partisan thinking. So, he became a mediator for conflict resolution.
One of Gerzon’s main points was that it doesn’t make sense for red and blue parties to argue against each other, when the solution doesn’t solely lie in either party. Rather, it lies somewhere in between. Polarized viewpoints don’t actually solve issues. It’s through the relationships and connections we form with each other that lead to a solution and having certain opinions transcend being just liberal or conservative.
“It’s not about left and right it’s about listening to each other and forming a community solution,” he said.
One of the more emotional moments of the lecture was when Gerzon asked the audience, “What does it mean to love your country?” He reflected on the Founding Fathers, saying they wouldn’t want us to be at war with each other. That they wanted us to be learners and innovators and to see the world from a geocentric viewpoint > that is, caring about the earth as a whole.
“Hardcore red and blue people don’t learn, they just apply their -ism to an issue and there’s their answer. It’s a shortcut to learning how to deal with fundamental differences,” said Gerzon.
He stressed the importance of relationships and talking about issues. He pointed out that our democracy is based off of an 200 year old model from France that decided whether people wanted a monarchy or not. In our present-day democracy, we have build relationships and start listening to each other if we want to solve anything.
“You cannot be conflict illiterate in a democracy. We have to develop our conflict skills,” he said.
The good thing is, millennials are starting to cross the boundaries of just red and blue. Almost 60% of millennials identify as independent and after this election, there will be a chance to harness conflict for innovation and enabling progress. He suggested that absolutely no one in the room was completely conservative or completely liberal and that is more productive and practical to have a blend of these mindsets.
Through this lecture, Gerzon brings to light the fact that fundamentally different mindsets must contend with each other, because you can’t get what you want from a country that is paralyzed in two separate boxes.
“Why live life using one hand when we can use two?” he asked.