Deepening Connection and Understanding Across NH’s Urban/Rural Divide

We’ve all lived it, haven’t we? 

We’re going about our day when someone says something political that boils our blood.

Anyone could have said it, anywhere. A stranger through the comfortable anonymity of the comments section. A neighbor or a colleague we thought we knew better, over a video-chat happy hour. A blood relative, a friend, or even a life partner – who just made us second-guess their character in an instant.

The point is: they said it, and we’re upset. So, perhaps we start arguing with them in righteous anger. Perhaps we shut down and walk away. Since we’re human, we probably toggle between the two. Either way, ultimately, our trust is diminished, our relationship (or, what potential we had to build one) is damaged, and perhaps most importantly, neither of us “gets” what the other was truly trying to say.

This, friends, is a result of our hyper-partisan times. With a novel virus surging, an economy struggling, and massive protests over the violence that communities of color face every day, the emotions and the challenges associated with hyper-partisanship and political polarization are only exacerbated.

Yes, we see this play out rather infamously in Washington. But we also see it here in New Hampshire, in our lives, in our text threads, and in our social media feeds, to the point where we start communicating and fostering senses of community only with those who think, act, pray, work, live, and vote like we do.

We go to a bar – or a socially distanced back yard – only with those in a similar age group, only with those who are in similar lines of work. There, we air a lot of our political, moral, ethical grievances about “those who will never get it” only with we, the like-minded. You know, those who already get it.

Don’t be ashamed. Like I said, we’ve all lived it, haven’t we?

Whether we’re consciously aware of these choices or just benevolently along for the ride in our world, these divides; these political, geographic, economic, racial, ethnic, religious, generational, gender, and sexual differences are constantly used to drive us apart, particularly when it comes to electoral politics. It’s up to us, individually and collectively, not to ignore them, but to acknowledge them, embrace them, and communicate across them to explore the perspectives we’ve never really, honestly considered.

This is the mindset with which my friend and colleague Joe Bubman, a seasoned conflict resolution and peacebuilding specialist, founded Urban Rural Action. It was also his pitch when he asked me to come home to New Hampshire and help him launch Deepening Connection and Understanding Across New Hampshire’s Urban/Rural Divide, a free, nonpartisan opportunity for all Granite Staters to strengthen relationships and explore different reflections on community challenges – and their possible solutions.

The program that we’ve designed in partnership with Michele Holt-Shannon and our friends at New Hampshire Listens (which is part of the University of New Hampshire Carsey Institute of Public Policy) and that we’ve been empowered to run by the generosity of New Hampshire Humanities seeks to break down that hyper-partisanship, help folks acknowledge the differences among us, and move ahead, stronger. 

We would love for you to be a part of this exciting program. Here’s how to get involved:

  1. Live in New Hampshire. That part should be easy!
  2. Head to the Deepening Connection and Understanding Across New Hampshire’s Urban/Rural Divide program page. Call, email, or text someone who is meaningfully different from you and encourage them to apply with you.
  3. Scroll down and complete the Application Form. Hit “Submit” at the bottom of the page.
  4. Block off your calendar for the critical milestones of the program, all of which will be hosted over video-conference:
  • September 10, 2020 @ 4-6 pm – Build connections and explore perspectives
  • October 1, 2020 @ 4-6 pm – Analyze community challenges
  • November 5, 2020 @ 4-6 pm – Explore actions you can take
  • February 11, 2021 @ 4-6 pm – Tell your stories of difference and collaboration

Questions or concerns? Drop me an email at ethan@uraction.org. I’m from Merrimack and serve as UR Action’s New Hampshire State Director. I’d love to hear from you.

We on the UR Action-NH Listens team are so thankful to our friends at Stay Work Play for championing this program and providing us the space to promote it, and we hope you’ll join us in this unique opportunity to get to know your fellow Granite Staters in a new way.

About the Author

Ethan Underhill grew up in Merrimack. He played for the Cardinals, went to Camp Naticook, and once finished a King Split at King Kone in under 10 minutes. Today, he splits his time between his efforts with Urban Rural Action in New Hampshire and his consulting duties at Vantage Partners in Boston, where he designs and delivers programs on influence, negotiation, leadership, and change management.

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