If you want to change the world

I've always wanted to change the world. That doesn't make me particularly special. A lot of us Millennials want to change the world, to break the paradigm, to make a real difference. But how? And when?

After several exciting years in Washington, DC, I developed a strong sense that I wanted to do something moresomething bigger than myself. It's that desire that sent my wife Chrissy and me to Uganda, Africa for six months with Samaritan's Purse in 2013. That experience forever changed me and my perspective on life.

We settled back home in North CarolinaChrissy pursuing a PhD in global health, me beginning a new job. But I still didn't know what I wanted to do when I grow up. I felt like the Uganda experience would lead to something more and harbored a nagging sense that I should be making a bigger impact but for the time being, I would settle into a normal job and wait to discover my path. 

There was one thing born of my Africa experience that remained present. It was a new passion for civil discourse, a burning desire to see us listen to each other, especially to those with whom we disagreeto better communicate, respect, and understand across division. This simple idea first articulated on an overnight bus ride from Uganda to Kenya then shared with millions of newspaper readers across America had become a nonprofitListen First Project. I was proud of LFP, and I invested what little time I could in the margins to its growth over four years.

Still, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I grow up.

Then things started moving fast. Over the first half of this year, I developed rich relationships with many visionary leaders across the country engaged on similar missions, and I started business school on the weekends. I'd always wanted to go to business school and knew it would be a great experience. However, I could never have imagined that not only would I meet the most diversely talented and inspirational group of people of my life but that all 45 of them would join my leadership team to elevate Listen First Project to new heights. The distance between what I was doing in my normal job and what I could be doing with Listen First grew greater and greater.

I just needed the courage to step out of the boat. Then tragedy struck Charlottesville. The hot rhetoric that inspired the founding of Listen First Project in 2013 had escalated to mob violence. There were now casualties of our incivility; it looked like our country was falling apart.

Listen First Project could no longer occupy only the margins of my life. The need and opportunity were too great. So I dedicated myself full-time to the Listen First mission. 

Over the time I had considered taking that risk, someone insisted that I read Make Your Bed by Admiral William McRaven who himself changed the world by overseeing the killing of Osama bin Laden and commanding all U.S. Special Operations forces. Several of Admiral McRaven's lessons for changing the world jumped off the pages and into my personal decision.

It takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life. You cannot paddle the boat alone.
The obstacle course is going to beat you every time unless you start taking some risks.
Those who live in fear of failure or hardship will never achieve their potential. Without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life. 
With courage, nothing and nobody can stand in your way. Without it, other will define your path forward. With it, you can accomplish any goal. 
You must rise above your fears, your doubts, and your fatigue. No matter how dark it gets, you must complete the mission. 
The power of one person to unite a group, the power of one person to inspire those around him, to give them hope. Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. With hope you can inspire nations to greatness. Sometimes all it takes is one person to make a difference. 

I finally know what I want to do when I grow up: I want to change the world. I guess deep down I knew that all along. But now, thanks to the confluence of experience, relationship, and opportunity, I have a much better sense of what that looks like. 

Our mission is to encourage conversation towards increased respect and understanding. We inspire hope for a brighter future and individual behavior change one Listen First Pledge and Conversation at a time. 

Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges and mend the frayed fabric of society. I absolutely believe it can change the world. And I’m not the only one. A longtime supporter recently posted this deeply humbling sentiment: "Often we hear that one person can change the world but dismiss it as a utopian idea. Pearce is doing just that." I'm not worthy of such kind words, but maybe one day I will be, and you will be too. Together, we can change the world.
---
Pearce Godwin, Founder & CEO of Listen First Project

Going all in before it's too late

On July 20th, 2013, I sat awake on a bumpy overnight bus ride from Kampala, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya. I thought about coming home to North Carolina after 5 years in Washington and 5 months in Africa. And I was distraught. I had heard that the vitriolic division already commonplace in D.C. had made a home in Raleigh that summer. 

After witnessing deadly starvation in Karamoja, Uganda, I would return to the most prosperous land on Earth only to find people vilifying one another over differences in worldview. The more I thought about it, the more incensed I became.

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By the time I saw the sun rising over Nairobi, I had written It's Time to Listen. I found an internet cafe and uploaded my thoughts to my blog and Facebook. When I next logged on in Arusha, Tanzania, I was surprised by the strength of the reaction to my simple idea. Friends suggested I send the piece to newspapers. I started with the Raleigh News & Observer and was thrilled to see it and many other papers across America share my thoughts with millions of readers. I had struck a nerve. 

Blown away by the resonance of my transoceanic musings, my wife Chrissy and I resolved to translate those words into action and make a tangible impact on public discourse in America. Overlooking the Indian Ocean from Zanzibar, we named our new initiative Listen First Project. 

For four years, Listen First Project has been a Pearce in his Pajamas operation. I've been inspired by the support and encouragement of so many folks across the country and world, but there was only so much I could do to grow Listen First in the margins of my life with a demanding job. Meanwhile, the problem of incivility grew to be a virulent scourge on our land. 

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The division and incivility that so troubled me in July 2013 seems almost quaint now. Oh that our discord could be contained to hot rhetoric. No, today we use bullets, torches, and cars to make our points. 

The tragedy in Charlottesville was a disgrace to the United States of America—fists flying, bloodied faces, abject racism. Heather Heyer lost her life amidst a clash of ideas—a casualty of the incivility that is destroying the fabric of American society. 

The United States will not survive as a healthy, prosperous nation if we continue to vilify and inflict violence upon our neighbors because they see the world differently. We must turn this tide before it's too late. 

So I've quit my job and gone all in on Listen First. 

I refuse to stand by and watch this nation become a shell of itself, terrorized from within by our inability to do something as simple as listen to one another, especially when we disagree. 

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I have been deeply blessed to have my entire University of North Carolina Executive MBA class of 45 incredibly and diversely talented people join my leadership team. This new firepower combined with many longtime supporters and new partners from across the country in my Listen First Coalition—totaling more than 100 Listen First leaders—gives me incredible faith in the future of Listen First. 

I ask you to join me in our Listen First movement to restore civil discourse, as we encourage conversation towards increased respect and understanding. Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges and mend the frayed fabric of society. We inspire hope for a brighter future and encourage individual behavior change, starting with me. As each one of us pledge to Listen First, we will restore civil discourse, one Listen First Conversation at a time. 

I'm all in. Are you? 

Please help us spread the word and turn the tide.

Listening for a change,

Pearce
Founder & CEO
Listen First Project

I Got Shouted Down for Listening First

Listen First Project Founder and CEO Pearce Godwin (left) stands in front of protesters and suggests civil conversation. Credit: CBS News

Listen First Project Founder and CEO Pearce Godwin (left) stands in front of protesters and suggests civil conversation. Credit: CBS News

On Tuesday night, I drove over to Chapel Hill where a major clash of protesters was rumored around the Silent Sam Confederate statue. I arrived at 5:30pm and left at 2am. The 8.5 hours in between were some I'll never forget.

The nearly 1,000 protesters were calling for the removal of the Confederate statue. There were only a handful of counter-protesters in support of Silent Sam. There was fear and online chatter that white supremacists groups would descend on campus, leading the school chancellor to warn students of serious danger in the wake of Charlottesville's tragedy. But there were no white supremacists this night, no repeat of Charlottesville.

Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists alongside other concerned students voiced a chorus of chants for most of the evening. But things got out of hand when one of their own was arrested for masking his face, which had been declared illegal. An organized protest quickly descended into a chaotic, anti-police mob. See my first-hand video of the lengthy clash with policeviewed by more than 10,000 on our Facebook pagebelow. At the peak of hostilities, protesters were literally thrown aside as they attempted to stop a police van from transporting the arrested activist off campus. Previously hidden combat officers came out of nearby buildings, streets were shut down, and more protesters were arrested. In response, protesters screamed in the face of officers and frequently chanted "cops and the Klan go hand in hand." It was not pretty. And it certainly wasn't civil. 

Following the confrontation with police, protesters returned to the Silent Sam statue and sat on the ground along the perimeter. With tensions seemingly calmed and everyone catching a breath, I saw an opportunity to engage in a Listen First Conversation with the group as I have many times with other large audiences. It seemed like a good idea. I was wrong. 

I stood against the fence in front of the crowd of protesters and introduced the Listen First idea, inviting a civil conversation (picture above). The response? Applause from some but jeers from many others:

"There's nothing to talk about here!"
"Are you deaf? We've been chanting how we feel the whole time!"
"You're not allowed to be neutral!"
"Sit down white boy!"
"If you want to talk to somebody, go talk to them!"

While this was discouraging and, in my opinion, detrimental to their cause, I took the suggestion and went to the other side of the quad to find them. Them was a handful of Silent Sam supporters keeping to themselves on the other side of the protected space. And them happened to be far more interested in conversation than the mass of protesters who'd shouted me down. That said, several anti-statue demonstrators tracked me down to apologize for the uncivil and embarrassing behavior of their comrades, saying "that was really messed up how they yelled at you." And some of them made a point to join me on the other side to gain a better understanding of their opponents' perspective. This is where the night started looking up from my Listen First perspective.

A funny thing happened as the night wore on and the bulk of protesters scattered—Us vs Them became Me and You. Suddenly, passionate activists on opposite sides of the Silent Sam debate found themselves in close proximity to one another. One by one, they came to the remarkable realization that the "other side" is largely comprised of human beings not so unlike themselves, but with a very different perspective. Rich Listen First Conversations ensued. I was feeling great.

Then two guys showed up wielding baseball bats.

The levity was sucked out of the air as we saw a couple tough guys approaching with helmets and bats. They looked angry. They were ready for a fight. The police came to attention as we braced ourselves for trouble. Heated words were exchanged before folks retreated into their respective corners again. Now this was an interesting challenge. But hey, it couldn't go any worse than my first attempt at inciting civil discourse.

I walked over to engage our new bat-wielding friends, Webster and Eric from Fort Bragg. They seemed nice enough in their matching American flag capes. I enjoyed learning what brought them to Silent Samthey wanted to "protect property and their brothers in blue" if any trouble was afoot. 

I invited Webster to walk with me over to the now-small group of anti-statue protesters for a little chat. He gladly came along and stuck out his hand to greet each person one by one. Tensions eased. While Webster engaged with his new acquaintances on the matter of Silent Sam, I kept an eye on Eric. He seemed much more comfortable hanging back, with his bat and new police friend. But finally, I coaxed him over and into the group. He graciously took my suggestion to leave his bat with the officer.

Nobody said anything. Some of these students had literally started crying earlier when they saw an angry Eric coming with his bat. So I broke the ice. "Eric, I think you made some folks feel uncomfortable showing up here with a bat, what was that about?" We were off to the races. Wide ranging Listen First Conversations ensued for the next two hours, culminating in the picture below. And hugs. Yes, hugs. 

See, here's the thing. We can all get hyped up within our tribe and lose our sense of humanity, nevermind civility. When we're in the mindset of Us vs Them, there's not much space or tolerance for listening. But when we turn down the temperature a few notches, muster a little courage and humility, and approach our ideological opponents as individuals, amazing things can happen in the Me and You.

And as each one of us focus more on the Me and You instead of the easier, more comfortable Us vs Them, we can restore civil discourse in Americaone unlikely Listen First Conversation at a time.

Once the adrenaline wore off and much of the crowd dispersed, Listen First Project Founder and CEO Pearce Godwin (back right) convened protesters from opposite sides who engaged in rich Listen First Conversations.

Once the adrenaline wore off and much of the crowd dispersed, Listen First Project Founder and CEO Pearce Godwin (back right) convened protesters from opposite sides who engaged in rich Listen First Conversations.

An inside look at the clash between student protesters and police around the Silent Sam Confederate statue on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. Video taken by Listen First Project founder and CEO Pearce Godwin.

Grappling with Charlottesville and Racist Extremism

If you have not yet seen this footage from within the white nationalist activists before, during and after the Charlottesville rally, you need to stop what you're doing and watch it. In 2017 America, abject racism and anti-Semitism is very real and repugnant. This video is likely to make you nauseous, but unless we fully understand that these views still exist in the United States of America and confront them head on, we will not mend the frayed fabric of our society.

As the leader of the Listen First movement, I've been grappling with what unfolded in Charlottesville for the past week and heard from many passionate people around the country. My leadership team and I spent last Sunday discussing the most appropriate response.

Listen First is for everyone. When we alienate a segment of society, when we convey that someone's perspective is not worthy of being heard, we push extremist elements farther into the fringes of society--allowing them to fester and become more virulent among other ostracised populations. They do not go away; they sit and wait for opportunity, for a signal that it's safe to speak up. This is a very real danger. We just saw the consequences. But the solution is most certainly not to accept every belief as valid or equivocate on basic human, and American, values. While there was violence and hate from many directions in Charlottesville, there is no moral equivalence between abject racist and those standing to oppose abject racist. To suggest otherwise is cowardly and wrong.

The Listen First Pledge includes prioritizing respect and understanding in conversation. But it's not always that simple is it? Are we to Listen First to someone espousing the views illuminated by this VICE News video? As with physical violence, abject racism or anti-Semitism voids the privilege of a Listen First response. While I would like to gain an understanding of that perspective in order to eradicate it and heal our land, I need not respect or normalize the belief. Listen First is about improving humanity by restoring civil discourse. We cannot improve humanity if we attack the humanity of our fellow Americans. But let's also challenge ourselves--despite the abhorrent views and actions of some abject racists--to respect their humanity as well. I know; I don't like the sound of that either. It doesn't seem fair. But no matter how right we think we are, and may be, when we start thinking another person is less human or less valued--for any reason--are we not falling into the same bottomless pit of hate that will destroy this nation?

Listen First Project wants to write a new story, one of restoring humanity and civility to our conversations and our protests. And we believe the first chapter of that story should be written in Charlottesville—with a major Listen First Conversation Event. Please help us make that happen!

Our future depends on turning this story around, now. -PearceGodwin

We need to face this

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This is one of those weeks that you're likely to never forget. 

We need to face it: since the protests, hatred, and violence in Charlottesville, our society has erupted in division. All week, news articles and social newsfeeds have put a spotlight on our desperate need to listen to one anotherto have difficult conversations. Some activists have taken strong measures to get their voices heard. Check out this list of monuments that have been defaced or destroyed in recent days:

  • Arizona: Jefferson Davis Memorial
  • Florida: Confederate Memorial Park
  • Georgia: The Peace Monument
  • Illinois: Bust of Abraham Lincoln
  • Massachusetts: New England Holocaust Memorial
  • North Carolina: Confederate Soldiers Monument, Duke Chapel Robert E. Lee Statue
  • Philadelphia: Frank Rizzo Statue
  • Virginia: Confederate Soldiers Statue

Regardless of your position on these monuments, we believe conversations are preferable to violence and illegal behavior. We've seen not only confederate monuments targeted but also a Holocaust memorial and a monument to peace.

As Duke University's Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta reflected, "this week we also witnessed the vandalism of a Holocaust memorial in Boston, and, as a child of Holocaust survivors, I can't avoid making a connection between the two actions. Can we think of one as activism and the other as vandalism? Some would argue we can and should, but I'm not able to accept that reasoning."

You cannot punch, kill and deface your way to understanding and civil discourse.  We believe the Listen First Project was created for such a time as this. Our country is enormously polarized, and a lot of us are waiting for something to be done to help heal our nation and restore civil discourse.

Friend, who better than you to face this problem and start a movement to listen first?

I want to ask you to consider taking two actions over this weekend in support of our movement to Listen First: 

  1. LISTEN: Think of a specific person right now who you disagree with. Can you commit to reaching out to them this weekend, and actively listening to them? Here are some guidelines we came up with to help you have a Listen First Conversation.
  2. SUPPORT: The Listen First Project exists because we know a stable society cannot exist without civil discourse in the public square. We provide events, tools, and campaigns to raise awareness for civil discourse between neighbors, but we're nothing without you. Can you make a $10, $25, or $50 donation towards supporting our needed movement?

Listen First Reflection on the Charlottesville Tragedy

Regardless of your political views, race, or religion, we should all agree that the scenes of fists flying and bloodied faces in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend were deeply disturbing. This kind of personal hatred and violence is a disgrace to the United States of America and not what has made ours the most successful country on Earth.

This internal scourge on our nation threatens the future of the United States. A healthy and vibrant society cannot survive amidst such attacks on the humanity of our fellow Americans. As I wrote on a bus in Africa back in 2013, if we hope for a healthy, prosperous nation we cannot continue to vilify our neighbors because they see the world differently. Yet we still do, and now worse.

A woman lost her life amidst a racially charged clash of ideasa casualty of the incivility that is destroying the fabric of American society. We have become so blinded by the polarization and tribalization of our communities that we see other human beings as threats to be despised and defeated.

That tragic story can be what lives on from Charlottesvillethe latest in a string of overheated clashes across the countryor we can begin to write a different story for America. We need our country to have a new and open conversation that starts with listening first.

Listen First Project wants to write that new story, one of restoring humanity and civility to our conversations and our protests. And we believe the first chapter of that story should be written in Charlottesvillewith a major Listen First Conversation Event.

Imagine individuals who have significant disagreementson any issue of interestpledging to listen to one another and having civil conversations where violent protesters were fighting, and killing. Instead of clubs, we’ll bring conversations; instead of punches, a pledgeto listen to and consider another person’s views, to prioritize respect and understanding. Instead of lashing out, imagine opponents Listening First!

To be clear, physical violence is a non-subjective line across which you have voided the privilege of a Listen First response. But it's not the only one. Abject racism also crosses this line. Believing another person is less human or less valued due to the color of their skin is racist. While I would like to gain understanding of that perspective in order to move beyond racism and heal our land, I need not respect or normalize the belief. The United States of America has no place for racism. Listen First is about improving humanity by restoring civil discourse. We cannot improve humanity if we attack the humanity of our fellow Americans or anyone else.

Join the Listen First movement to restore civil discourse one conversation at a timeconversations that prioritize respect and understanding. Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges, and mend the frayed fabric of American society. United, we can move beyond slander and violence to seek common ground. Our future depends on it.

Pearce Godwin shared the above perspective in signing a joint Bridge Alliance statement on Charlottesville denouncing factions of abject racism. The statement said, in part, "There can be no hope for common or even higher ground when leaders support intolerance, bigotry or hatred... Hate has no place in America. True patriotism requires us to stand united at this crucial time in our history."

Charlottesville: A story of terror or turnaround? Up to you.

No matter your political views, race, or religion, we should all agree that the scenes of fists flying and bloodied faces in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend were deeply disturbing.

This kind of personal hatred and violence is a disgrace to the United States of America. It is not what has made us the most successful country on Earth. As I wrote on a bus in Africa back in 2013, if we hope for a healthy, prosperous nation we cannot continue to vilify our neighbors because they see the world differently. Yet we still do, and now worse.

A woman lost her life amidst a racially charged clash of ideas – a casualty of the incivility that is destroying the fabric of American society. We have become so blinded by the polarization and tribalization of our communities that we see other human beings as threats to be despised and defeated.

That tragic story can be what lives on from Charlottesville – the latest in a string of overheated clashes across the country – or we can begin to write a different story for America. We need our country to have a new and open conversation that starts with listening first.

Listen First Project wants to write that new story, one of restoring humanity and civility to our conversations and our protests. And we believe the first chapter of that story should be written in Charlottesville.

We want to host a huge Listen First Conversation Event in Charlottesville. Imagine individuals who have significant disagreements pledging to listen to one another and having civil conversations where violent protesters were fighting, and killing. Instead of clubs, we’ll bring conversations; instead of punches, a pledge – to listen to and consider another person’s views, to prioritize respect and understanding. Instead of lashing out, imagine opponents Listening First!

Will you choose this turnaround story for Charlottesville and every other community in America?

Our country needs this. However, these events are expensive, and we need your financial support to make it possible. Would you consider making a $5, $10, $25, or $50 donation towards helping us host a Listen First Conversation Event in Charlottesville? 

Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges, and mend the frayed fabric of American society. That difficult process of rebuilding should start in Charlottesville.

Please help us make it happen now!

Pearce
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Pearce Godwin, Listen First Project Founder & CEO, released the following statements in response to the tragedy in Charlottesville:

Charlottesville hatred and violence a disgrace to the United States of America

The limits of the Listen First ideal as it relates to violence & racism

The limits of the Listen First ideal as it relates to violence & racism

The Listen First Pledge is to fully listen to and consider another's views before sharing your own, to prioritize respect and understanding in conversation, and to encourage others to do the same.

The most challenging question with which I'm often confronted: Is there ever a point where Listen First doesn't apply, when we shouldn't listen first? This question has come up again in the aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville.

Physical violence is a non-subjective line across which you have voided the privilege of a Listen First response. But it's not the only one. Abject racism also crosses this line.

We throw around charges of "racism" and "hate" with reckless abandon at people who hold different views than our own. Those words have lost concrete meaning in our overheated, uncivil discourse. But they are real, and they tragically still exist. Certainly not everyone involved in a discussion or protest related to race is a racist but sadly some are.

Believing another person is less human or less valued due to the color of their skin is racist. While I would like to gain understanding of that perspective in order to move beyond racism and heal our land, I need not respect or normalize the belief. It is not ok. The United States of America has no place for racism.

Listen First is about improving humanity by restoring civil discourse. We cannot improve humanity if we attack the humanity of our fellow Americans or anyone else.  -Pearce Godwin

Charlottesville hatred and violence a disgrace to the United States of America

The vile hatred and violence in Charlottesville is a disgrace to the United States of America. In 2013, I said that if we hope for a healthy, prosperous nation we cannot continue to demagogue our neighbors because they see the world differently -- suggesting that not only their opinions but they themselves are somehow less. Tragically, we now see not only demagoguery but physical violence and lives lost -- casualties of the incivility that is destroying the fabric of American society.

Hatred and fear are increasingly drowning out humanity and friendship. Basic decency has given way to demagoguery. Rancor has replaced relationships. We have become so blinded by the polarization and tribalization of American society that we often cannot see another person as anything but an ideology to be despised and defeated.

This internal scourge on our nation threatens the future of the United States. A healthy and vibrant society cannot survive amidst such attacks on the humanity of our fellow Americans.

Please join the Listen First movement to restore civil discourse one conversation at a time -- conversations that prioritize respect and understanding. Listening has the power to restore relationships, build bridges, and mend the frayed fabric of American society.

I pray we unite to move beyond slander and violence to seek common ground. This must stop. Our future depends on it.  -Pearce Godwin

Independence Day 2017

The United States of America is at a crossroads. Hatred and fear are increasingly drowning out humanity and friendship. Basic decency has given way to demagoguery. Rancor has replaced relationships.

This is not "those people's" problem. It's my problem. And it's your problem. 

We have become so blinded by the polarization and tribalization of American society that we often cannot see another person as anything but an ideology to be despised and defeated. But by listening to one another, especially to those with whom we disagree, we can restore civil discourse – one conversation at a time.

This Independence Day, may we all rise above the vitriol and Listen First.

Happy 4th of July!  -Pearce Godwin

Reflections on why we malign each other

I was enraged this morning by back-to-back stories on the news: a noose hung in DC's African-American museum and the N-word graffitied on the entrance to LeBron's home. The flesh of man is so insecure and the heart so wicked that we will malign other races, religions, parties, and people groups of any kind whom we can see as "other" in a sad attempt to make ourselves feel superior, and a little more secure.

As I reflect now, the truth is that I shouldn't be shocked. Scripture explains that "from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts." "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick." Yet, "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" that we may "put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander."  -Pearce Godwin

Morning after the 2016 Presidential Election

Today we have a choice. We can carry the vitriol and violence of the 2016 campaign into the years to come, or we can choose a better way for America. We can rise above slander and seek common ground, gaining a new respect and appreciation for the other side. We can invest in relationships with folks who don't always agree with us and bridge our divides. The restoration of civil discourse, the healing of our nation, starts with each of us as individuals one conversation at a time. Let's do it.  -Pearce Godwin