Conflict resolution expert Mark Gerzon discusses bipartisanship in the nation’s democracy

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Photo by Alexis Meacheam

 

On November 1, 2016, author and conflict resolution expert, Mark Gerzon gave a lecture at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. His lecture titled, “How to Bridge the Partisan Divide No Matter Who Wins the Election,” discussed the issues seen within the United States caused by the two dominating political parties. Specifically, Gerzon detailed the problematic way in which two parties do not work together, giving off the idea that loving your country comes from being fully on one side or another.

“I started out thinking that loving my country meant being a conservative because I grew up in Indiana in the 1950s,” said Gerzon. “And I thought loving America meant being conservative because that’s what all these people who said they loved America were.”

Soon after moving to attend Harvard University, Gerzon changed his political views. Along with this came a sense of having to argue as a liberal and pick between being either “red” or “blue.” However, after spending much of his time arguing and believing that loving his country meant arguing for what you believe in, Gerzon came to a new conclusion about what loving his country meant.

“I decided that loving my country meant becoming a mediator and studying conflict resolution. So I studied it, wrote about it, practiced it, went to communities to help people bridge divides across their differences, developed programs, and got liberal foundations and conservative foundations to stop funding liberal or conservative community groups and fun collaborate groups to find resolutions to conflicts,” stated Gerzon.

After a while, Gerzon was hired to design and facilitate the U.S. Congress’s retreat. He discussed his dilemma with creating a program that would keep both sides, democrats and republicans, on board with what was going on during the retreat. After a successful retreat, Gerzon noted that nothing had really changed for the country despite the ways in which they all worked together. This then brought him back to asking the audience how they love their country and what it means to them.

“How do you love something that is divided? How do you love something that is at war with itself?” asked Gerzon.

Gerzon used an analogy to set up the fundamental issue of what is wrong with our current democratic process. He compared our election process and way in which our elected officials work to having two hands, but only using one.

“Who would want to live a life with one hand if you could use two?” questioned Gerzon.

Gerzon speculates that the reason our government and voters have become unsymmetrical is because the mind polarizes us. This polarizing factor is argued by Gerzon to severely damage our democratic processes and government functioning. Total party control of dialogue requires that the people have to use their own sets of skills and knowledge in order to recreate what Gerzon called the “re-united states of America.”

“You can’t get what you want from a country that is paralyzed,” said Gerzon.

Mark Gerzon offers a suggestion on how to fix this problem our nation is currently in. Conflict resolution is what he believes to be the saving grace of a divided country.

“I think we are getting to the point where we are realizing there is something systemic happening. We cannot be conflict illiterate. We cannot be conflict illiterate in a democracy. Particularly when people feel like they have the right to be heard,” stated Gerzon.

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