By Carlyn Montes De Oca. Reposted from animalhumanhealth.com

What do you feel when you disagree with someone – discomfort, distaste, anger? Do you confront them or shut them out? Do you conclude they are wrong, weird, or even crazy?

We are living in divisive times. The rift is overtaking communities, our country, and even exists within our own families. This division may seem irreparable. But what if there was a solution?

Girls With & Without Their Dogs

I took an uncharacteristic hike without my dog on Saturday, but I didn’t go alone. I walked with Joan Blades, a progressive activist and co-founder of MoveOn.org who I met at a friend’s gathering a few months before.

Before our hike, Joan introduced me to her “non-conforming” Shetland sheepdog Calvin, whose black and white stripes reminded me of a friendly skunk. In short order, Calvin showed me that genius runs in the family as he enthusiastically leaped through a hoop, rolled over and played dead after being shot with an air gun, and danced chasing his tail. I fully expected the little guy to put on an apron and make us lunch!

During our breathtaking walk in Tilden Park overlooking the city of Berkeley, I learned about Joan’s latest endeavor, Living Room Conversations. LRC is a non-profit community of “Americans dedicated to connecting across divides.” Her organization brings people together from opposing viewpoints; not to change minds, but to engage in respectful conversations that lead to discovering commonalities versus arguing about our differences. Many of the people involved actually end up liking each other and forming friendships.

As you know by now, in searching for the most “pawsitive” ways to approach life, I look to my animal friends for inspiration and wisdom. So as I’ve watched our country grows more polarized I’ve often wondered if the natural world has some answers on how to bridge this gap.

How Animals Bring Us Together

Not long ago I read an article that shed light on the Dogs of Capitol Hill. Whether Democrat or Republican, it appears our lawmakers love their dogs as much as we do. So much so, that they would rather step out of a room than argue in front of their canines for fear of upsetting them.

I also know from my own personal experience how animals can connect us despite our differences. Years ago, I volunteered at an Animal Rescue with a devoted group of volunteers. We loved, cried, and literally sweated over the dogs in our care. Finding forever homes for these dogs bonded us. And that connection did not change when I discovered that a fellow rescuer, who had become a dear friend, lived at the other end of the political spectrum. She was a Republican and proud of it! I could hardly believe it. Sometimes I still can’t. But it doesn’t matter. She and I will always be close friends because of the dogs that brought us together and bonded us in friendship and purpose.

Like me, Joan Blades is progressive politically yet she has shared Living Room Conversations with Mark Meckler, (co-founder of the Tea Party), and has even done a TED talk with conservative John Gable entitled, “Free Yourself From Your Filter Bubbles.” John’s advice to the audience? – “If Joan Blades asks you to go for a walk, go on that walk!” I for one am glad I did.

What If…..

Walking with a giant like Joan Blades, a fearless woman devoted to making our world better, inspired me. I wondered – what if having a Living Room Conversation became the norm instead of the exception? It’s always been my belief that our differences make us interesting, give strength to our society, and positively shape our future. What could we learn from each other if we didn’t fear or hate one another? How could we thrive?

As an animal advocate, I am happiest when I see people respecting, and acting with greater compassion and kindness towards animals. But not everyone does. There are people who hunt and feel fine doing it. There are people who say they love animals, yet eat them. I won’t lie, I want that to change but it won’t unless I am willing to take a step forward and at least make the attempt to understand the people who disagree with me. I also need to be willing to be curious, present, and to listen with an open heart. Truly communicating with someone who has a different point of view may be challenging but what better opportunity for personal growth?  Joan carries herself with a calm, centered, and confident energy; as though she has tossed away some invisible shackles. I imagine the conversations she has had which have brought her out of her comfort zone, have also freed her in some way. It’s a contagious energy.

After our hike, I went home and signed up for a Living Room Conversation. I don’t know who will be there, what will be said, or what the result might be, but I’m willing to take that step. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that whoever’s living room we gather in, there will be a dog or a cat to help us stay calm, to add some smiles, and to give us courage. Dogs and cats have super-powers that way, but I think their guardians do too.

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