Across the nation, Americans are concerned that our country is drifting further and further apart. Many communities face a similar challenge of partisan divides that are getting stronger and sharper each year.

We see this dynamic here in Maine, where our legislators and our governor often argue unnecessarily, while the only thing Mainers want is to see progress on complicated issues. Washington sets the same frustrating tone, where Democrats and Republicans view each issue as a win or a loss. The divisive 2016 election followed by the combative rhetoric that has followed continue to drive a wedge between so many Americans.

Incivility in government continues to bleed into our daily lives, causing pain and frustration for many of us. It’s becoming clear that we’re no longer listening to each other and we’re struggling to build the relationships that help us understand one another, work together and find compromise.

But here in Maine, we don’t have to continue down the same corrosive path. We all need to take a step back and remember that we have more that binds us together as Americans than separates us by politics.

That’s why we’re working together to engage Mainers to improve and strengthen public and political discourse through a statewide initiative called Maine Revives Civility, a partnership among the National Institute for Civil Discourse, the League of Women Voters of Maine and the Maine Development Foundation as well as a growing network of partners and collaborators.

Our democracy is predicated on the idea that opposing sides can work together, find common ground and develop solutions to address complex problems. Whether we live in Aroostook County or Cape Elizabeth, we all need to embrace the vital skills of listening to each other, disagreeing without being disagreeable and building a culture of respect.


Both of our esteemed senators already model the kind of discourse we hope to replicate across the state. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is routinely lauded for her commitment to bipartisanship and regularly works to improve civil discourse both in Congress and across the country. Earlier this year, she clearly explained a tenet we must all embrace: “We don’t have to get along, but we must show respect and civility.”

During a Bar Harbor lecture on civility earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Angus King crystallized his philosophy for governing, first as our state’s chief executive and now as one of our elected representatives in Washington. King tries to be careful not to make disagreements personal: “We must always resist the temptation to turn an opponent into an enemy.”

We have a number of advantages to help us improve civility. We have one of the highest levels of voter turnout and political engagement in the country. We value close access to our elected officials. And we have a history of tolerance, regularly welcoming everyone to our great state – for example, the many Somali refugees who have resettled in Portland and Lewiston.

We also have a state Legislature – galvanized by the need for progress – working together to find solutions. Many lawmakers have direct experience working with the National Institute for Civil Discourse – participating in civility workshops organized by the institute to build stronger working relationships, which make it easier to find compromise.

We don’t expect or want Mainers to walk away from their political beliefs. And we’re not offering a solution to partisan politics. Civility means listening to one another, demonstrating respect and continuing to work together, even though we may not agree on every issue.

So, let’s start talking again. Take a moment to ask yourself if you can do more to reach out to connect with people who may not agree with you on the issues. As we gather with friends and family over the holidays, we have a great opportunity to start “setting the table for civility” by pausing and reflecting on the need to heal the divisions in our state and in our country and take personal action to increase civility and understanding. We have Maine Revives Civility guides available online that can help you start conversations on your own – at the library, at your church, or even at your own kitchen table.

We know we can’t fix this divide overnight, but we believe we can make progress just by reaching out.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.