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How Americans can rediscover civility during political turmoil

America has been a nation divided for a while.

Now, with Washington mired in a congressional impeachment inquiry that’s investigating the dealings of President Donald Trump, that divide has grown ever wider. Americans on all sides express a mixture of anger and frustration that they have been betrayed by their country, by their leaders or by their fellow Americans.

  That raises a question: Can the nation find its way back to some semblance of civility and reconciliation, or have things gone too far?

“Even in down times, there’s always a road back if we give each other the courage to both look for it and take it,” said Susan Stautberg, co-author with Elaine Eisenman, Ph.D., of “Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing.”

Stautberg, a former TV journalist who covered Watergate in the 1970s, and Eisenman, an organizational psychologist, say that any successful institution – whether it’s a country or a corporation — requires a sense of strong interconnectedness and shared pride.

“That’s something that is severely lacking at the moment in the media and the world,” Eisenman says.

Instead, on social media and sometimes in person, friends, family and strangers argue heatedly over every political revelation and treat each other like mortal enemies, unwilling to consider the other side’s arguments, much less feelings.

Regardless of how the impeachment inquiry plays out — and who feels betrayed by whom in the process — Stautberg and Eisenman suggest a few ways each American, and society as a whole, can seek to heal their relationships with those they don’t see eye to eye with.

Keep communication lines open. “You detoxify disputes when you personalize them, which is why it’s important to continue contact with people you disagree with,” Stautberg says. “As Gandhi put it, ‘You can’t shake hands with a closed fist.’”

Remember the value of tact. Sometimes you must have a sense of how to say or do the right thing in order to maintain good relations with others and avoid offending them, Eisenman says. “That may sound easy and simple, but it’s not,” she says. “Tact takes brains and discipline. It’s a form of empathy. You see someone is embarrassed or unhappy and you decide not to make it worse; you decide to be gracious instead.”

Find ways to build community. “We need to work together to end social isolation and build communities by weaving together a social fabric,” Stautberg says. “We need to build relationships and hubs where disenfranchised networks of people can come together for solidarity and support. With each other’s help, we can look beyond the moment, not in rearview mirrors.”

“We are living through such challenging times and need civility and friendship, despite differing points of view,” Eisenman says. “Willingness to embrace and celebrate our differences brings out our best.

“Our purpose should be frank, open and spirited discussions of issues, not dividing debates. Close friendships can survive these times of intense political change. We just need to put friendship first and find common ground.”

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