Susan Combs, For the Express-News, May 11, 2021
I was lucky enough recently to be invited to a preview of a study on Texas — and how Texans feel about a variety of issues — across seven different categories of people. The research commenced about a year ago, involved talking to 4,000 individuals, conducting focus groups and crunching data, and it came up with surprising (to me) cohesion among all groups.
The report — Threads of Texas — from the nonprofit More in Common, which is “devoted to to strengthening social cohesion,” is now available to the public.
People died. Loved ones were sick. We all knew someone who had COVID-19.
Politics took sharp turns at the same time. National, state and local politics were angry and divisive, driving wedges between friends and families.
Now, spring is here, and the tragic and devastating February snowstorm is behind us. That was an unbelievably bad time for too many Texans. But, finally, we are seeing flowers: Vaccinations are up, and the pandemic numbers look better. Fingers are crossed. The air is soft, and the skies are blue.
So getting a chance to listen to a group with the compelling message that, yes, we as a state have more in common than we thought was well worth my time.
For much of the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic upended daily life. Movies, restaurants, hugs. All over. Touching people. Handshakes. Gone.
More In Common has a straightforward, data-driven approach. Slicing and dicing the stats produced more common perspectives than I expected. Sometimes it was how something was phrased that allowed a better human connection.
I have eagerly begun sharing this study with people in my network and urging them to investigate the website. On the phone, I can hear a smile in their voices. There is a surprise but also an upwelling of fragile hope. Really? We don’t hate each other as much as we are told we do?
Turns out when you dig deep, as More In Common did, into attitudes in the Lone Star State, by a sizable majority, we want people of all backgrounds, outlooks and races to feel welcome. Being made to feel welcome is a great thing. It opens mental and emotional doors to connecting. So we might truly be able to put out a statewide welcome mat. That sounds fantastic.
The research also pointed out that, by and large, we do think things will get better. Texans are less divided than residents in other states. But the work is still ahead. With the research and compiled data, there is room for optimism. But hard work, measured words, a way of being inclusive — these are all important tools for approaching each other. Words matter. Using sharp rhetoric for effect can be impactful — but one that too often is negative.
A witty cousin of mine from San Antonio had a mantra, which I adopted: “No negative chacha.” We both instinctively understood that “chacha” stood for all kinds of bad stuff. But the goal of no negative anything has a way of entirely redirecting our perspective. Just think about it: Maybe we should each take a one-day break from screaming into the void online or at our TVs.
We’d be less hoarse from screaming; our blood pressure would undoubtedly benefit; and amazingly, we would be able to hear other people speak.
Listening to understand — that’s one of the most powerful tools we have in our arsenal and one we certainly don’t use often enough. Maybe we could stretch this exercise to a second day. And onward. We might learn something from each other that we simply never could hear before. I am an inveterate optimist. Let’s get started on working toward more in common.
Susan Combs is a former Texas comptroller and agriculture commissioner. She was most recently assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Read the original piece here, https://www.expressnews.com/opinion/commentary/article/Texans-find-common-ground-16166043.php