You are not imagining things: We are in another election season, the clearest evidence of which are all of the roadway signs that have popped up locally in the last couple of weeks.

Voting, by absentee ballot, is now underway for the March 3 North Carolina primary. Early voting begins Feb. 13 at both the Moore County Agricultural Center in Carthage and the Pinehurst Fire Department on Magnolia Road.

As if we have not spent the past four years locked in a war of words and polarized views, it is about to get uglier — much more so.

Need it? Not at all, and there’s plenty of examples to back that up, chief of which was an ambitious project undertaken by The New York Times last fall.

For one weekend last September, 526 voters — statistically representative of all Americans registered to vote — were invited for an all-expenses-paid weekend at a Dallas resort. The purpose? “To show that there might be a better way to disagree,” the paper said.

A nonpartisan group raised $3 million to fund this group, and university researchers figured out the right people to invite. The almost universal first reaction: What kind of scam is this?

These individuals — all races, genders, creeds, beliefs and political ideologies — were not told to leave their politics at the resort entrance. Indeed, they were told to bring every grindable ax to the table.

“At least one woman,” the paper said, “did not tell her parents she was coming here, because talking politics is so hard at home that she didn’t want to admit she was flying to Texas to talk politics with people she didn’t know.”

Virtually all of you reading these words can understand that. These days, we all have friends who only want to talk politics or talk about anything BUT politics. The discourse has grown so divided, so passionate, so overheated, we have — or know of others — who have lost friendships, who can’t talk to family, who have seriously questioned the sanity of spouses.

But the exercise in Texas was meant to test a theory being advanced by two Stanford University political scientists, James Fishkin and Larry Diamond. They believed that if you could put a diverse group of folks in a room for a time, “they’re likely to mute their harshest views and wrestle more deeply with rebuttals.”

Or, as Fishkin described it, the participants “don’t talk the way policy wonks talk about an issue. They bring their life experience, their observations. But they’re making arguments when they tell a story.”

With issues such as affordable health care, tariffs, immigration, federal minimum wage and climate change before them, the researchers — and participants — were surprised by the interactions.

“Voters on both the left and the right appeared to edge toward the center,” said the story, once researchers looked at surveys conducted at the start and at the end of the weekend. “Democratic support receded for a $15 federal minimum wage and ‘Medicare for All’; Republican support grew for climate agreement and for protecting from deportation immigrants brought to the United States as children.

“During meals and at the bar at night, there were unlikely pairings of people everywhere, just talking, with no moderators.”

Said participant Susan Bosco, a 76-year-old woman from Fairfax, Virginia: “I think the purpose of this conference was to get people to accept each other’s points of view in a civil manner and to realize that basically, many people are inherently good and want what’s best for the country.”

In the end, you don’t have to be an academic to see what happened that September weekend in Dallas. The reality is that we all are closer together for what we share, than further apart for how we differ.

In the end, we all want quality health care we can afford; a good education for our children; clean water and air to consume; regulation that keeps us safe from the illest of intents; justice for those wronged; a nation whose differences these past 244 years have ultimately made us stronger.

So sure, the academics got to prove their research. And we got to prove something of ourselves.

(7) comments

Mark Hayes

John, the United States in comparison to other foreign counties is still in it's infancy, most have all gone through a growing experience. There are no guarantees this country will remain united, or if it really should. Our population has changed, demographics have changed, idealism's have changed, it may be time to give into the states that want to become independent, form their own government, then they should do so, for the most part that has already become a reality.

Sally Larson

So true John, it's one thing to rant and rave on the internet and completely different experiences when people talk to each other, get curious and ask clarifying questions expressing their real concerns and have a conversation. It's just too lazy and easy for people to dismiss each other with some labeling comment. It takes some conscious intentions and courage to communicate with each other.

Kent Misegades

What real Americans have the time and interest to be essentially used as lab rats for a couple of pointy-headed academics from an elite left coast university? This reminds me of the lefty journalists from DC who travelled to the Midwest to see if she could find one person who voted for Trump, since no one among her friends did. That is the problem - too many people on the government dole or beholden to it live under a bubble and refuse to consider how most Americans in fly-over country live and think. They actually believe in fake news and refuse critical thinking. They will be equally shocked when President Trump is re-elected in a landslide. Seek the Truth though and it will set them free.

Dan Roman

Kent the super critical independent thinker:

"Seek the Truth...and it will set them free"? like "Arbeit macht frei" (work will set you free), which crowns the gates to Auschwitz and Dachau?

Conrad Meyer

Dan, your comment is out of line. Triggered perhaps?

Jim Tomashoff

What Kent fails to note is that the number of Americans who live in the "fly-over" country are in fact a sizable minority of all Americans. Kent suggests that they are the real Americans. They are the Americans whose lives and thoughts are the best ones, and must be emulated. But again, they are a minority. If Trump wins, American democracy will never recover. But that's just fine with Kent, so long as unbounded capitalism and religious extremism prosper, which they just might if Kent's electoral prediction is accurate. And you know what Kent. The people in fly-over country won't like that one bit in the end.

Ed Pieczynski

I believe people on our coasts and people in fly over parts of our countries are all Americans. There is a reason the Electoral College exists and we can debate that till the cows come home. What I absolutely don't agree with is your comment "if trump wins American democracy will never recover." I guess you were a strong believer that if Trump won in 2016 the world would be plunged into a global economic recession "with no end in sight."

Sound familiar?

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