Editor’s Note: This article was initially written as part of the National Week of Conversation, which invites Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs to find their place in community with people willing to talk across their differences to solve important problems. We hope you’ll read the story and consider how you can be part of the solution.
In early March, we were part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who proposed five bills together to address early childhood care in North Carolina. While there are many issues where we disagree strongly, we knew it was important to work together on an issue that is affecting families, young children, and the workforce of our state.
Much of what you hear in the news these days is that our state and our country are deeply polarized. We know that many of us socialize with people that hold the same political beliefs and we tend to consume media and news that confirms our point of view.
Both of us got into public service because we believe it is important to solve problems in our community and we are committed to engaging with anyone who wants to work with us. We saw the power of listening to people with different points of view when we participated in the North Carolina Leadership Forum at Duke University (Sen. Burgin in 2022 on the topic of health care, and Rep. Clemmons in 2019 on the topic of education funding and school choice).
The Leadership Forum convenes a diverse group of state and local leaders from the business, nonprofit, and government sector on a specific public policy topic. It facilitates the leaders in a series of discussions that help participants understand other points of view, think about our values, and talk through the tradeoffs of different policy solutions. Even more important, the Forum lets leaders build trusting relationships with each other so that we can engage even when we disagree.
Here are three lessons we took away from the experience:
We have similar values, but we may weight them differently. In discussions about education funding and school choice, participants all wanted schools to be excellent, but some prioritized parental choice while other prioritized community benefits. For health care, tensions around affordability and accessibility were influenced by whether you lived in a more rural or urban part of the state. Understanding these values helped us think about how to address others’ concerns.
By listening to people with different points of view, you expand your understanding of an issue and learn new ideas to solve it. Sen. Burgin participated in discussions of health-care insurance and costs that helped him see new ways to solve persistent problems — like innovative ways to support moms and newborns in the Medicaid system.
Finally, building relationships with people who are different is a critical first step toward making progress on important topics. Rep. Clemmons met people in the forum in 2019 that became critical partners in developing a unified early response to COVID-19 in the state.
We valued the NC Leadership Forum so much that each of us have encouraged it to run similar programs on another critical issue in our state — housing — in our home regions. Last year NCLF gathered leaders in the Triad, and this spring, leaders in Harnett, Johnston, Wake and Chatham counties are talking about the same topic. We know they will emerge with new tools for addressing our communities’ needs.
This week, April 17-23, is the National Week of Conversation, which invites Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs to find their place in community with people willing to talk across their differences to solve important problems. We hope you’ll read our story and consider how you can be part of the solution.
Reach out to someone you disagree with and ask them what experience led to their beliefs, think about how you can build relationships with your neighbors that hold different political views, and look for ways to engage constructively even when you disagree with someone. If we can do it, so can you.