Elections, solutions and a fourth way to face conflict

We've got a pick-me-up if you're done with politics. But also, don't forget to vote!

We've got a pick-me-up if you're done with politics. But also, don't forget to vote!

If you haven't voted yet, add it to your calendar!

Hi friends, Nora here. We're less than a week away from the midterm election. It's on Tuesday. And I can't not talk about it.

I admit that I've enjoyed pulling back from political news this election season. I've been joking all year that I'm a recovering political reporter. (Sorry if you heard me make that joke more than once!)

I covered elections for nearly 10 years, beginning with Gov. Scott Walker's 2012 recall election in Wisconsin.

A Walker supporter yelled at me, "Now THIS is what democracy looks like," as I reported on his victory from a Republican watch party that night.

I've watched politics become more snarky and combative since then. And I'm sad to say that I likely played a role in that, albeit unintentionally. I often used pugnacious wording and emphasized conflicts and differences between candidates. In the process, I became more cynical about what was possible through politics and outside it.

There's evidence that links the horse-race style of election coverage to distrust in politicians, distrust of news outlets and an uninformed electorate, according to a research summary from The Journalist's Resource.

I did find a few election stories that feature solutions to share with you today. And I'll share a little more insight into the Shades of Purple project I've been developing, because it emerged from a brainstorm on election coverage.

Despite all the shortcomings of our democratic system, I beg you not to withdraw. Look up your ballot, research your candidates and cast your votes.

Our school boards, Legislatures and Congress will make many important decisions in the next few years that will impact our lives and future generations. It's OK to take a break from the news, but please don't take a break from voting.

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A practice called reflective consultation is helping some frontline workers manage burnout. In last week's newsletter we explored how the process works and what we can learn from people who use it to support professionals who care for children. "We're biologically wired to be emotionally aroused by the needs of young children," says Tracy Schreifels, who is the executive director at the Ellison Center in St. Cloud and a provider of reflective consultation.

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(Andi Arnold for The Optimist)

More about our work in the middle

A few weeks ago, I announced the development of a program called Shades of Purple: Dialogue across difference in greater Minnesota. The project emerged as I thought about how to explore political issues in a fresh way.

As I sent up trial balloons in conversations with other entrepreneurs and solutions journalists, I discovered Spaceship Media. Spaceship Media works on "journalism to bridge divides." And I plan to use their model along with tools from other bridging organizations.

There are many groups doing this kind of work, as people notice and take an active role to counter polarization. I know there's a need to do this in central Minnesota and to do it continuously. Stand-alone conversations can help, but I don't think that will dent the divides that have formed over decades.

If you're in the area and want to help as a moderator, a host or a sponsor, let me know. I'm piecing together a broad coalition.

If you're outside of Minnesota, I expect that the journalism that comes out of this project will be encouraging and interesting to you. And I've got some insight to share now with anyone worried about political or social divides.

In the book "High Conflict," Amanda Ripley explores how people in extremely divided situations manage to foster empathy and reach some level of resolution. When we're in conflict, we often feel we have three choices: leave, fight or surrender into silence, Ripley explains. (Sometimes it might be the right choice mid-conflict do one of those three things.)

But there's also a fourth way, which Ripley explores through case studies and research. The fourth way is this: Go deeper into the conflict.

"When people do not talk about their differences, they miss the opportunity to be stretched - intellectually and emotionally - and to come out the other side stronger and wiser." - Amanda Ripley, "High Conflict"

Shades of Purple is about creating safe spaces for people to do that emotional and intellectual stretching.

It's gonna be good! It's gonna be hard! But this is what gives me hope when I start to stress about elections and politics.

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Explore some great elections solutions stories

How to Fix America’s Confusing Voting System, from ProPublica. From the piece: "Today’s election system remains a modern-day literacy test — a convoluted obstacle course for people who struggle to read." The story features efforts to take on that challenge.

The Secret to Passing Climate Legislation — Even in Red States, from Grist. I love a good story featuring bipartisanship, and this meets that criteria. Turns out word choice and framing can go a long way when it comes to environmental laws.

How Colorado became the model for running an election by mail, from Fulcrum. This piece is full of lessons other states can learn from Colorado, which implemented reforms after a number of problems with their voting system 15 years ago.

Bonus photo!

As colors fade to neutral tones this fall, I've been enjoying depth and texture in the landscape. I even wrote a poem about it, but I won't be sharing that! Here's a photo that's been inspiring me this week.


Dried hydrangea at Linden Hill Historic Estate in Little Falls, Minn. on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. (Nora Hertel for The Optimist)

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