News / Calgary

Leaders talk about bridging the left-right gap in Alberta politics

Calgary group says opening up to uncomfortable conversations is necessary to civil dialogue

Laura Hughes (left) and Rev. Sheena Trotter-Dennis of the Hillhurst United Church discuss how to have better political conversations with those of differing opinions at the Marching On! Social Action Group's communications workshop on Sunday.

Autumn Fox / For Metro

Laura Hughes (left) and Rev. Sheena Trotter-Dennis of the Hillhurst United Church discuss how to have better political conversations with those of differing opinions at the Marching On! Social Action Group's communications workshop on Sunday.

In a world where contrary political opinions can spur anything from a family dinner feud to a vitriolic Twitter war, one Calgary group is hoping to learn the value of bridging the political divide through a workshop designed to encourage respectful communication.

On Sunday, March 19, the Marching On! Social Action Group met at Hillhurst United Church to take part in the workshop led by the Very Rev. Bill Phipps and Willow Brocke, a Calgary psychotherapist.

No stranger to political discourse, Phipps, who ran as an NDP candidate against Stephen Harper in a 2002 Calgary by-election, said the group was originally formed by Brocke and the Rev. Sheena Trotter-Dennis after the Women’s March in January, as a means to further engage Calgarians on issues of social justice.

Based on the current political climate, Brocke said learning to communicate more effectively is now more important than ever.

“If we keep lamenting about this divide that’s happening without actually realizing what we personally are doing to make it worse, and what we can do to make it better, we’re getting more and more into a dangerous situation, especially here in Alberta. But it’s really hard to see another perspective without being informed of that perspective.”

Brocke’s presentation was based on the moral foundations theory, which found that left and right-leaning citizens have certain core values that influence their political beliefs. Appealing to these values and reframing an opinion can help influence those whose views differ from your own.

“We may share those values, we just value them a bit differently,” said Brocke. “It’s easier to change a view than a value.”

Brocke said part of the reason for conflict in political discourse is that people feel attached to their own sense of certainty, and when attacked, do not feel safe to question their own views or assumptions.

“People are avoiding the dialogue because it’s so uncomfortable and to me, that’s what democracy is based on, is civil dialogue. So, how can we do that well without getting so emotional?”

Currently, there are no plans to host more workshops, but Trotter-Dennis said depending on the interest, the grassroots approach of combining actual communications skills with social justice could be beneficial to others in the community.

“We shall see where it leads us,” said Trotter-Dennis.

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