Community + Compassion Across the Political Divide – A Letter on the Eve of Our Election

civil discourse


November 2, 2020

Dear Trinity Community,

Schools are blessed to be entrusted with the care of young children. Included in that privilege comes much responsibility. With the national presidential election just around the corner, one that is already particularly contentious, how do we prepare and preserve the strength of our community? How do we promote compassion across the political divide? How do we ensure an environment that is safe for courageous conversation? 

We write today with ideas to help ground and serve us well beyond November 3. After hours of research, collaborative professional learning, and conversation, we want to share the messages that resonate most with us; some Trinity has created and some we’ve adopted from others.

STRIVE FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE

As is always appropriate, we begin with Trinity’s mission and values. 

At Trinity Episcopal School, we will nurture each child academically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We will honor each child’s spirit for learning and life, ever mindful that we are all children of God.

  • A Christian Foundation
  • Enriched Academic Excellence
  • A Diverse Community
  • Family Commitment

Trinity’s foundational Episcopal identity calls us to respect the dignity of each human being; honor diversity; celebrate inquiry and independent thought; seek to serve others; prioritize social concern and action; and put children at the center of every conversation and decision.

We know the process of education involves give and take; it includes compassion, compromise, and dialogue. There is a balance in Episcopal Schools between who you are as a Christian institution and creating openness and genuine hospitality that welcomes many voices and perspectives. As an Episcopal school, we are called to strive for justice and peace for all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.

SEEK TO UNDERSTAND DIFFERENCE 

Robb Willer, a Stanford professor who has studied partisan divides, wrote, The way people typically approach political persuasion is that they talk about their own reasons for holding given political positions, but this neglects the fact that the person you’re talking with often has very different moral values, a very different psychological makeup, and a very different social background. Willer says that persuasion is rooted in empathy. If you want to begin to change someone’s mind, you should make your argument from an understanding of their values, not your own. Past studies of this technique have shown that it can bring people together on a range of issues. 

What is a good first step? Willer suggests that we can begin by reading as much as possible on views that are opposing to our own. Today, people tend to read and watch those sources that confirm their point of view. Willer notes that by doing so, “we’re sort of training ourselves to be really, really bad at speaking to someone with different values.”

CULTIVATE COURAGEOUS, COMPASSIONATE CONVERSATION

Trinity’s faculty and staff have embraced a set of community norms that we use in both our conversations and when teaching students about civic reasoning and how to engage in courageous conversations. We ask parents – our students’ first teachers – to join us in modeling these hallmarks of civil discourse.

  • Stay engaged; engage with curiosity: ask questions, listen to understand, share your own truth. 
  • Challenge yourself and others with kindness and respect; support the individual, challenge the behavior; avoid shaming and blaming.
  • Withhold judgment/assume positive intent while recognizing impact. 
  • Lean into discomfort; view mistakes as opportunities to grow.
  • Value our time together: leave space so those who choose to speak may.
  • Treat the candidness of others as a gift: honor confidentiality. 
  • Expect/Accept non-closure

We are prepared to face this moment with the skills, tools, and emotional capacity expected of us to hold all of our students, staff, and families in our care. We will uphold our mission. We will look out for one another. We will remain Trinity Strong. As any Trinity Tornado can tell you...

Our strength is in our differences,

the gifts we have to share

And together, we can build a better world,

For people everywhere!

 

Faithfully,

Jennifer Morgan, Head of School
Shanna Hines, Head of Lower School
Shanna Weiss, Head of Middle School

 

The preceding letter was also mailed to Trinity families on October 29, 2020.