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Editorial: Local guy wants civil, respectful political discussion

Scott Bentson wants to talk, and he wants us to get back to civil discussions with people of opposing political viewpoints.

Bentson wants to talk and that's why he's been hanging out downtown in Pioneer Park with a sign that simply reads: TALK POLITICS?

He's inviting people to stop, take a seat on the bench and talk. This is his grassroots effort to promote civility in discussion and debate. The larger plan is to form approximately 10 to 12 person groups and talk politics and beyond.

Bentson created his Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) initiative to provide for people who self-identify as conservatives and liberals, Democrats or Republicans, with independents added to the mix when possible. He notes, "N2N is not about persuasion or conversion to any particular political party or point of view. It is all about increasing your understanding of the reasons other people may not agree with you. If we can come to understand each other and talk to each other even though we disagree, then maybe we can reduce our current toxic level of political partisanship and find a way to work more effectively together to address the problems and challenges we all face."

Bentson wants N2N to be a way to share your thoughts and feelings while also making a sincere effort to understand the thoughts and feelings of your neighbors. Whether you are liberal, moderate or conservative, Republican, Independent or Democrat, you are invited to join your neighbors in a small group for civil political discussion.

Bentson needs people for these N2N groups and took to the streets downtown last week to hopefully engage in conversation, and ultimately recruit volunteers willing to participate in the groups.

He sat with his sign and cooler of water in Pioneer Park twice last week to kick off his campaign of civil and meaningful dialogue. Over the two afternoons 10 people stopped and they had serious conversations of over five minutes.

He held the first group meeting with six or seven folks scheduled to participate and three showed.

It's a slow start to a good idea and good for Bentson putting himself out there. He's on the right track with the Neighbor to Neighbor idea and now he needs people to join.

Bentson feels there is so much polarization and separation in our country right now that people are afraid to talk politics. Feelings can run so hot a lot of people choose to avoid the conversation because it often divides friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters, kids and their parents. Bentson says he sees just that and in his so far limited conversations is hearing the same thing on the street.

He wants people to get people in the same room and talking even if they don't agree - especially if they don't agree. He wants to talk about what you think, what you feel, your traditions, your values, your views on what you think it means to live in America.

So far, sitting in the park with his TALK POLITICS sign people mostly just keep walking. Sometimes people stare at the sign, some shake their head and sometimes people simply smile and walk on. Those that do stop share his same idea that this country is headed in such a different direction it's really hard for people to talk about things.

He's talked to people with Democrat leanings who have kids who are Republican leaning. There's a rift because they can't come together for conversation.

"What bothers me a lot is people demonizing the other guy, whether it's a Democrat demonizing a Republican or vice versa. It's not a healthy way to interact or solve problems," Bentson says.

In proposing his Neighbor to Neighbor approach Bentson explains most of us have chosen to avoid political topics in order to avoid the potential for conflict, disagreement and hostility. We still do business together, we help each other out, sit next to each other at church and community events, we exchange pleasantries but we stay away from areas of assumed conflict. Perhaps it would be more constructive for people who do not necessarily agree about things to sit down in small groups to talk things over. Perhaps it would be helpful to try to understand our differences and also get reaquainted with what we have in common politically.

Makes sense and Neighbor to Neighbor might just be the way back to civil discussion.

Bentson encourages anyone interested in getting involved with the N2N groups to email him at: sbentson@gmail.com

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