How foreign language abroad made me think of “foreign” language at home

June 3, 2024
By Scott Schluter

What might these three things: travels across an ocean, a foreign language and Braver Angels, working to bridge the political divide, have in common? I’d like to tell you about my recent trip.

This past month, I took my first trip across an ocean, to the birthplace of my grandparents and of a felt heritage. Taking this trip I’d put off for decades, required more than money and time, it required me, an entrenched planner, to leap into what I’d not done before and rip off the Band-Aid of my indecision and book the trip.

I had to be comfortable with being uncertain about how the trip would go, even with planning, given that situations can arise in a foreign land with transportation, currency, language and more. Let’s make this happen so that I can get better at doing new things outside my comfort zone. Hopefully then, these new things can be part of a bigger comfort zone for me.

Stepping into this new land, I speak very little of the language and conversationally understand even less. I soon realized that at home I learn a lot simply by observing others' actions and understanding their exchanges. Here, I missed much by not comprehending the inquiries of the sellers and the buyers at the market, the conversations of the couple walking beside us, those laughing at their nearby table.

I learn from the questions others ask, as often, I didn’t think of it that way, or I didn’t imagine their nuance, or that’s a different approach and so on. I missed the comfort of understanding what people around me were saying. The language gap became a very real moat of separation. Inside that moat, I operated only on my internal thoughts, my formulated questions,

my way of thinking about something. Suddenly, I felt I was missing out on the world around me.

This “missing out” made me think about my Braver Angels encounters with others’ political views and “language” used by those who see the world differently than me. I wondered if my foreign travels are similar to when we are not speaking another’s story and not understanding their language.

If I speak with the language of a conservative, another might speak the language of a liberal. You might speak as an urbanite and I might speak as a ruralite. To what extent are we only speaking and only understanding the language of our particular view? Often, I have found in our Braver Angels alliance meetings, that the words might literally be the same, but the

meanings and the feelings they evoke can be very different. Think of “equity” or “justice.”

My goal in traveling to my grandparents’ birthplace was not just to see buildings and landscapes, but to experience and understand the people and their stories. With Braver Angels, I choose to pursue those same goals when traveling outside the homeland of my political thoughts. And, as I choose to travel in my conversations with others, shouldn’t I also choose to

understand the people and their stories and learn to listen for their “language”?

Our understanding of that language can be a key for us becoming more of who we hope to be.  When we travel, who grows? Is it those we visit or those of us who allow ourselves to understand their world and another’s story?

Traveling to another’s homeland does not mean I lose mine or who I am. Traveling to another’s land can be scary, when we don’t understand their world, their lives, their histories, their answers and even their questions. People love to travel. People love to learn and grow when they travel. They choose to explore worlds so different from their own and spend a lot of time and money as well. And, then they want to do it again and again.

My choice is to keep taking a step to new places and new peoples, with languages yet unknown and lives that might be outside my comfort zone. I know doing this will help me to grow and be more alive tomorrow, than I am today. I choose to be listening to understand their story. Listening to understand their language.

Your story will always be yours and yours to share. No one can take that away. And traveling into these new spaces and places and languages, I believe, will make a bigger comfort zone for all of us.

Scott Schluter is a state co-chair of Braver Angels Minnesota ( and lives in Minneapolis. Braver Angels ( is a national non-profit nonpartisan organization working to bridge the political divide.

Disagreeing Better workshop in Woodbury

March 27, 2024
About 35 people participated in the Skills for Disagreeing Better workshop in Woodbury, held by the Minnesota Braver Angels East Metro Alliance.

Braver Angels co-founder Bill Doherty spoke about Reduce the Rancor in Rochester

March 26, 2024
Braver Angels co-founder Bill Doherty spoke about Reduce the Rancor, Minnesota to about 50 people representing Evangelical churches in Rochester who meet regularly to increase respect in communication about public issues. We look forward to an ongoing partnership. Several participants said they will be applying to become Braver Angels moderators to bring more workshops to the Rochester community

Ed Marek and Jeff Thiemann on 940AM

March 20, 2024 

Braver Angels State Steering Team member Jeff Thiemann and Braver Angels Ambassador Ed Marek (also, Network State Partner Representive) were interviewed on Rotary's program Searching for Service. They discussed the  mission, goals, and current activities of Minnesota Braver Angels. Click on the link below to hear the interview.

Ed Marek and Jeff Thiemann SFS.mp3

Campaign calls on Minnesotans to 'reduce the rancor' in 2024

Republican Eagle, March 17, 2024
Cannon Falls, Minn. -- A statewide campaign kicked off Monday that calls on Minnesotans across the political spectrum to reduce polarization during the 2024 election.

Called “Reduce the Rancor, Minnesota,” the campaign is sponsored by the nonprofit Braver Angels and is supported by the chairs of Minnesota’s two major political parties. Elected officials, colleges and universities and religious and civic groups are also supporting the campaign.

The campaign asks organizations and Minnesotans to take at least one action to lower the temperature in their conversations about politics. 

Minnesota Republican Chair David Hann and DFL Chair Ken Martin joined the kick-off event at the University of St. Thomas Monday.

Hann said he is sometimes criticized by his party for talking with Democrats, but he doesn’t consider Democrats as “our enemy.” 

“There are a lot of things we disagree on – many things, a lot of things – but one thing I do believe is we have to find ways to work together to find some kind of common ground,” Hann said.

Martin said that it’s OK for people to disagree and people can disagree without being disagreeable. 

“People aren’t listening to each other anymore. People should not be afraid to share their opinions, but to open their ears and listen to others. You might actually learn something and find common ground,” Martin said. 

Bill Doherty, a co-founder of Braver Angels and a University of Minnesota professor, said that the campaign’s key message is that people can learn to “disagree better.” 

“This does not mean giving up cherished values or policy beliefs. It means learning to disagree with respect rather than rancor,” Doherty said.

Two state party chairs and 21 partners join with Braver Angels to call on Minnesotans to “reduce the rancor” in 2024

Republican and DFL state party chairs participate in the campaign as co-sponsors

From left: DFL Chair Ken Martin, Republican Chair David Hann and Braver Angels Co-founder Bill Doherty
Photos by Scott Schluter

March 12, 2024
Braver Angels Minnesota news release

St. Paul, Minn. -- A statewide campaign began Monday that calls on Minnesotans across the political spectrum – liberals, conservatives and independents – to help reduce hostile polarization during what promises to be a politically divisive election year.


Called “Reduce the Rancor, Minnesota,” the campaign is sponsored by the nonprofit Braver Angels and championed by the chairs of the state’s two major political parties and 21 organizations that include elected officials, colleges and universities, Minnesota Public Radio, professional associations, and religious and civic groups.


In a kick-off event held Monday at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, David Hann, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, and Ken Martin, chairman of the Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party, addressed students, campaign partners and Braver Angels members.


“I believe that it’s a gift to have a country where we can settle our questions about how we’re going to govern ourselves through the political process.,” Hann said. “We’re in a time when there is lot of emotion for human beings. That’s to be expected. We don’t have to be governed entirely by those emotions. In my party, sometimes I get criticized for consorting with the enemy. And they say ‘enemy.’ I say wait a minute. I never refer to Ken Martin or the Democrats as our enemy. They’re not our enemy. They’re our political opponents.


“When you’re talking about enemies then the next step is when do we start shooting each other. When do we start picking up guns?” Hann said. “Because that’s what happens when you have enemies. Now, there are a lot of things we disagree on –- many things, a lot of things -- but one thing I do believe is we have to find ways to work together to find some kind of common ground.”


Martin shared a similar view. “My dad was a Republican and my mom was a good feminist and progressive. We would have lots of conversations around the dinner table. The one thing I was raised on is: It’s OK to disagree and you can disagree without being disagreeable….People aren’t listening to each other anymore. People should not be afraid to share their opinions but to open their ears and listen to others. You might actually learn something and find common ground.”


He also recalled a conversation with the late Vice President Walter Mondale who told him that about 30 years ago Republicans and Democrats had “fierce disagreements” but after the election would lay down their “campaign swords” and seek common ground.  Mondale said they didn’t even see the other side as opponents but as people who ran for office for the same reason they did – each side believed in making a difference for Americans for helping to build this country.


“Now, the day after [an election] it’s just one perpetual game and campaign to try to make the other side look bad,” Martin said. “When we have polarization now and toxicity in politics, guess what happens: Cynicism rises. The American public gets cynical not just about politics but about participation.”


Martin said both party chairs are committed not only to reducing the rancor but “doing our best to model the type of behavior so other politicians, maybe they can do more of that up at the state Capitol and out in Washington, D.C.” Hann nodded in agreement.

Doherty invited representatives of the campaign partners able to attend to speak briefly about why their organizations are participating in the campaign. (A list of launch-day partners follows this news release.)


 In developing the initiative, Bill Doherty, a co-founder of Braver Angels and a University of Minnesota professor of family social science, told the crowd of about 160: “A key campaign message is that we can learn to ‘disagree better.’ This does not mean giving up cherished values or policy beliefs. It means learning to disagree with respect rather than rancor.” 


“Minnesota can lead the way for the nation,” said, Doherty, a co-chair of the campaign. “We have leaders and everyday citizens here who know how to reduce the rancor. We have a long history of legislators -- from both sides of the aisle – who have strong differences but work together to chart the state’s path.”


The other co-chair, the Rev. Jeff Thiemann, a recently retired Twin Cities executive, said: “Toxic polarization is disrupting the harmony within families, schools, neighborhoods, churches, workplaces, governments, and beyond. This extensive network of partners statewide brings unprecedented capacity and commitment to foster understanding and unity across these breaks.”


Specifically, the campaign asks sponsoring organizations and individual Minnesotans to take at least one action to lower the temperature in their conversations about politics. See the Reduce the Rancor website ( for partners and ways to help reduce political hostility.


To do this, partnering organizations will increase their capacity to offer their own depolarizing and bridge-building activities in collaboration with Braver Angels. The campaign relies on proven approaches that Braver Angels has developed and used since 2016.


Launched in 2016, Braver Angels, a nonprofit, is the nation’s largest cross-partisan, volunteer-led movement to bridge the partisan divide. Through community gatherings, real debates, and grassroots leaders working together, Braver Angels is creating hope – and showing Americans a braver way. 


Across the state, Braver Angels Minnesota has a growing base – currently nearly 2,800 subscribers and members – interested in bridging the political divide. Local alliances, or chapters, are forming or meet regularly offering such free workshops as Skills for Disagreeing Better or discussions on books and issues. Braver Angels Minnesota also offers speakers to civic groups, churches, schools, libraries and other organizations.  




Campaign Co-chairs
Bill Doherty is a co-founder of Braver Angels and the designer of the Braver Angels workshop approach. Doherty is a professor and director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. He combines a background in family therapy and community engagement.


Rev. Jeff Thiemann recently retired as president and chief executive officer of Portico Benefit Services, a separately incorporated ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He has been an active volunteer in Braver Angels at the national and state levels.


Bill Doherty leads the session to a full house of students, partners and Braver Angels members.

Leaders from Reduce the Rancor partnering organizations spoke about their commitment to the campaign.

March 12, 2004
In an effort to help foster civility and diminish political polarization, the University of St. Thomas co-hosted the kickoff event for the statewide initiative, Reduce the Rancor. The university, in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Braver Angels, seeks to elevate discourse and reshape perspectives on political differences without altering individuals’ views on the issues themselves.

The event, held at the Iversen Center for Faith on March 11, surpassed expectations with an impressive turnout, reflecting a collective yearning for positive change. The initiative aims to address the divisive culture that has permeated various aspects of society, from government and schools to churches and families.

University President Rob Vischer set the tone for the evening by addressing the consequences of the prevailing “politics of personal destruction.” He emphasized that this toxic environment not only discourages students from engaging in political activities but also hinders open and constructive discussions within classrooms.

Key figures from both major political parties, including the Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin and Minnesota Republicans Chair David Hann, were also in attendance. Both leaders took time to share their perspectives on the matter, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and compromise and pledging to model civility during the upcoming campaign season. Their commitment to the initiative signaled a shared dedication to overcoming the toxic rhetoric that has marred political discourse in recent years.

Representatives from influential civic organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Citizens League, and Rotary, joined leaders from other Minnesota colleges and universities, such as the University of Minnesota, Macalester, St. John’s-St. Ben’s, and Northwestern. Religious leaders, including the Minnesota Council of Churches and the Episcopal Church of Minnesota, also highlighted the crucial role of reducing rancor in achieving their organizational missions.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the event was the presence of many University of St. Thomas students. Leaders from the Aquinas Scholars, College Republicans, College Democrats, and Students for Justice and Peace spoke passionately about the importance of building relationships across the political spectrum.

Student Claire Mitchell said how impactful the evening had been to her, “pushing her to think more deeply about issues.” A student shared her unique approach to reducing polarization, using her psychology research to identify nostalgic memories that bridge gaps rather than widen divides. Her dedication to finding common ground through evidence-based methods exemplifies the innovative thinking that characterizes St. Thomas students. Students, speaking organically and from the heart, emphasized the importance of celebrating diversity while remaining true to one’s convictions.

The St. Thomas community is encouraged to learn more about the different opportunities for engagement with the campaign by attending the upcoming workshops, and events.

The university’s Tommies Reduce the Rancor initiative stands as a beacon of hope in a climate often overshadowed by divisive rhetoric. The event showcased the power of collaboration, the commitment to dialogue, and the determination to bridge the political divide. As the initiative gains momentum, it holds the promise of creating lasting change not only within the university community but also across the state of Minnesota and beyond.

Reduce the Rancor launch

WCCO-TV CBS Morning News, March 11, 2024
Video  Reduce the Rancor Launch 2024

Bridging Divides: The Braver Angels answer to political polarization

Owatonna People's Press, March 5, 2024
By Rober Warehime

When I tell people about my work with Braver Angels, an organization working to bridge the political divide, I often get a raised eyebrow or a skeptical “Really, how do you plan to do that?” Given our ever-widening political rifts, their doubt is not surprising.

In this divided landscape, it’s key to understand two types of polarization. First, there’s attitudinal polarization – where we differ in our political views, values, and priorities. This kind is actually good; it helps us make better, well-rounded decisions. The second type, affective polarization, is the troublesome one. This isn’t about disagreeing on policies; it’s about disliking, even hating, those who aren’t in our in-group. It’s natural to feel a kinship with like-minded people, but the trouble starts when we can’t stand the other side, questioning their motives and even, in the worst cases, denying their humanity.

One solution? Think more broadly about who’s in our “group”. Sure, we’re tightest with friends who share our views, but what about seeing ourselves as part of a larger community — our town, state, country, or even humanity itself? This can help dial down the us-versus-them mindset.

We also need to consider biases. We all have them; they help us make quick decisions in a complex world. But when these biases go unchecked, they can feed into the worst parts of group dynamics. This is where Braver Angels workshops shine. They give us a chance to set aside our biases and really listen to what the other side has to say. It’s about understanding, not interrupting or just waiting to make your point. It’s amazing how this approach lets us more easily see the person behind the opinions.

Polarization isn’t just a problem between political parties — it’s within them too. Democrats and Republicans each have their own internal rifts. Think about conservatives labeled as “RINOs” (Republicans in Name Only) for being open to compromise, or how some progressives dismiss traditional liberals. This infighting, in my opinion, is more harmful than the cross-party bickering.

My time with Braver Angels has shown me that we’re not as divided as we think. The loudest voices, usually the most extreme, tend to dominate the conversation, but they don’t represent everyone, and in fact they represent only a small minority. I’ve even found I have more in common with moderates from the other side than with the hardliners in my own camp.

I once thought what we needed is a new party to emerge from the middle, but we don’t. We need to learn how to debate and discuss issues without tearing each other down. That’s the essence of Braver Angels’ mission: to help us disagree in a healthier, more constructive way. Recognizing our own biases is hard. We tend to see our views as the norm, making it tough to spot our role in the divide. It’s easier to point fingers at others than to look inward.

Interested in being part of the solution? Join us at a Braver Angels workshop on Public Policy and Race. While it’s focused on this specific topic, the skills you’ll learn apply to all kinds of heated debates. The workshop is coming up at the Foundation Room at the Owatonna High School on March 13, from 6-9 pm. If you would like to know more or sign up, please send me an email at

Minnesota Public Radio News held its Talking Sense kick-off

Minnesota Public Radio News
Feb. 27, 2024
Minnesota Public Radio News held its Talking Sense kick-off in Woodbury, Talking Sense, the Roots of Polarization, in partnership with Braver Angels. Their Talking Sense website features Have Hard Conversations Better, an online and in-person platform using Braver Angels materials to help you navigate difficult conversations, despite political differences.

KTIS interview with Bill Doherty and Jeff Thienman

KTIS Radio Community Spotlight, Dec.23, 2023
Bill Doherty and Jeff Thiemann, co-chairs of the Reduce the Rancor, Minnesota campaign appeared on this radio show to talk about the campaign.

Angela Davis interview with Bill Doherty, Corey Yeager, and Catharine Richert

How to Have Hard Political Conversations, Better - Angela Davis of Minnesota Public Radio News interviews Bill Doherty and Corey Yeager, along with MPR reporter Catharine Richert, who leads their Talking Sense campaign.