A Democrat and a Republican walk into a Committee meeting …. and work together.

No, this is not the beginning of a joke, but is an apt description of 12 of our U.S. House members who make up the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. One observer wrote, “This committee is the most important small group of legislators that most Americans have never heard of.”

According to the Committee’s website, the committee was established in January 2019 and is “tasked to investigate, study, make findings, hold public hearings, and develop recommendations to make Congress more effective, efficient, and transparent on behalf of the American people.” The committee of twelve (names/states on website) is balanced equally between Republican and Democratic members.

Their most recent hearing, “Rethinking Congressional Culture: Lessons From The Fields Of Organizational Psychology And Conflict Resolution,” on June 24, was fascinating. Yes, 11 members of Congress (one absent) heard testimony from four individuals with expertise in: types of conflict in the U.S. House (no dearth of information there!), management psychology, conflict resolution, and crafting and facilitating depolarizing conversations. As the meeting closed the committee members were equipped with some concrete, thoughtful, actionable, recommendations for improvements.

Committee Chairman Derek Kilmer stated in his opening remarks: “Members [of Congress] are often rewarded for hostile, rather than productive, behaviors and actions.” Committee member Cleaver lamented that members of congress are scored on so many metrics by special interest groups, but not ever scored on civility and decency. Just imagine. But who would do the scoring? Committee member Phillips suggested that Reds score Blues and Blues score Reds … hmm.

Braver Angels is a non-partisan, non-profit organization committed to “bringing liberals, conservatives and other together at the grassroots level – not to find centrist compromise, but to find one another as citizens.” In his presentation to the committee, co-founder Dr. Bill Doherty offered concrete suggestions regarding how to structure depolarizing conversations and allow people to disagree without destroying each other (or the country, for that matter).

Committee member Dean Phillips shared his excitement over using these methods with two staffs back his own district. He said, “We need to put an end to anger-tainment,” and later, “We can’t work with people we can’t trust and we can’t trust people we don’t know.” Dr. Doherty stated, “We’re not sending you to Congress to be a gladiator … but a policy maker.”

Presenter Amanda Ripley, author and journalist, highlighted distinctions between “high conflict” and “good conflict” and how to use good conflict to our advantage while avoiding “high conflict.” She, a journalist, expressed concern over too much weight being placed on social media posts, which she cites as representing extremes and therefore being very misleading. Ripley stated she thinks logging onto Twitter should come with a pop-up note that says “8 out of 10 Americans don’t use this service.”

The hearing actually went for two hours, but if you have any interest in conflict management, improving corporate (or other) culture, rethinking business as usual or believing that our elected officials actually can work together, it might be a good use of two hours, and a nice break from your routine news feed. The hearing can be seen through the link on the Select Committee’s website: modernizecongress.house.gov or, if you don’t have two hours to burn ), highlights are available on the Braver Angles Twitter thread (look for the June 24 date).

So, yes … A Democrat and a Republican walk into a Committee meeting and do good work — together.

Elizabeth Bradley lives in Brunswick.

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