TENNESSEE DIVIDED: Bridging the Divide

Feb 19, 2018

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --   WMOT wraps up its exploration of the cultural, racial and political discord roiling Middle Tennessee and the nation by looking to local initiatives and organizations for solutions. In short, how do we bridge the current divide?

WMOT’s Alexis Marshall recently offered one possible solution when she reported on a series of community potluck dinners organized by Muslim teens in Murfreesboro. The now regularly held Love Your Neighbor potlucks are an opportunity for people of all faiths to get to know each other better. Jane Griffin attended a gathering last summer with her grandchildren.

Credit WMOT

“I wanted to be a part of this community event,” she explained, “and I wanted to show them what community is all about.”

Anas Hajhussein is a leading member of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and attended the same potluck. He noted the Love Your Neighbor dinners offer a welcome change from the frequent harassment area Muslims endure.

“It just makes you forget about everything that's happened, you know, and just sort of live in the moment and have fun,” he said.

Another example of civil mid-state discourse: On a recent Saturday morning, a group of Williamson County Republicans and Democrats gathered in Franklin to hold a daylong conversation.

The meeting was organized by Better Angels. The group’s trained moderators lead political partisans in explorations of their differences. Better Angels spokesman David Lapp explained to WMOT that the workshops are designed to change how Reds and Blues (Republicans and Democrates) see each other. The discussions are not meant to change participants’ political views.

“’We the People’ have to take responsibility for the divisions that our country is experiencing right now,” Lapp said, “and we’re finding that – as one person said in a workshop – ‘You don’t hate people that you know.’”

At the conclusion of the Franklin meeting, Angela and Julie were able to see the value in simple, respectful conversation.

“It’s OK to have opposing ideas,” Angela said. “It’s OK to be different. We are still human. We still love one another.”

“It smashes a lot of the stereotype of what one group or another group is supposed to be.” Julie concluded.

Middle Tennessee is also home to several institutions created to foster dialogue inside fractured communities. For example, Dr. Steve Joiner directs the Institute for Conflict Management at Lipscomb University. He concedes the mid-state is currently at a low point for civil discourse.

“People are living in their own echo chambers,” Joiner said. “Somehow people have gotten the idea that the way you get things done is to be louder than the other side. It’s a very difficult time.”

Dr. Joiner went on to say he also sees evidence that people are getting tired of the constant drum beat of hateful rhetoric.

“I really believe that the really good people of Middle Tennessee are kind of saying ‘OK, it’s time for us to find better ways to talk to each other,’” Joiner said.

And when Dr. Joiner says “talk to each other”, he actually means listen to each other.

“I spend my days around people I disagree with, and I had to teach myself to see that as an opportunity to learn something, not to communicate my opinion,” he said.

Lipscomb’s Institute isn’t the mid-state’s only resources for conflict management. The Nashville Conflict Resolution Center has served Davidson County residents for nearly two decades.

The Family of Abraham formed in Nashville in 2011 to promote interfaith dialogue.

Stating that there is “a deep craving for renewing Americans’ sense of unity” the Tennessean recently launched a yearlong campaign to restore community dialogue with an effort entitled “Civility Tennessee.”

Use the links below to explore these and other mid-state conflict resolution and dialogue resources.