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Finding Common Ground: Larry Odebrecht's Journey Towards Unity in a Polarized World

The following is an editorial provided by Stillwater City Councilmember Larry Odebrecht.  Larry is a vocal and strong supporter of many issues that align strongly with the Sustainable Stillwater MN mission.  He is also the community leader for the organization and operation of the Energy Action Team which was formed to help Stillwater reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. In this editorial, Larry provides his very thoughtful and eloquent perspectives on the path to finding common ground in a polarized world. 

City Councilmember Larry Odebrecht
City Councilmember - Larry Odebrecht

"In today's political climate's whirlwind, polarization seems to be the norm, and the call for understanding and dialogue feels more urgent than ever. The journey towards mutual understanding is challenging, no doubt about it. It's uncomfortable and often feels counterintuitive, especially when the views being shared seem worlds apart from our own. Yet, this difficult path is crucial for the growth and unity of our community in Stillwater and far beyond.

The adage "there is no easy way through this" couldn't be more accurate regarding bridging divides. Sitting across from someone whose views might make your blood boil is a tough pill to swallow. Yet, as daunting as it is, this process of active listening and genuine engagement is what paves the way for real progress. It's not about waiting for your turn to speak but truly hearing the other person out. It sucks at first, to be blunt, but it does get easier—and more rewarding—with time.

I've been there myself, wrestling with the discomfort of giving space to opinions I couldn't disagree with more. Yet, through these experiences, I've come to realize that, barring a few exceptions, most people come from a place of good intentions. They're not the monsters we might make them out to be in our heads. Realizing that can be a game-changer, transforming "them" from adversaries into fellow humans navigating the same complex world. If most people are being honest, there is a loved one in their lives who votes very, very, very differently than you do – and that person isn’t evil, right? That’s how it is with most people.

Our work with the Energy Action Team in Stillwater is a testament to the power of this approach. Despite differing views on global warming, we all agreed that wasteful energy spending does no one any favors. Through open dialogue and a commitment to understanding, we were able to transcend our differences and find practical, mutually beneficial solutions. This didn't erase our diverse opinions but built a foundation of trust and respect that allowed us to work together effectively.

This experience highlights an important lesson: differences in opinion need not be sources of division. Instead, they can foster trust and spur innovation, provided we approach them with openness and respect. Given the current state of discourse, it might sound naive, but this approach genuinely works. It's about elevating trust and collaboration above the noise of division and discord by truly listening to one another.

Some things that have helped me on the topic are 12 Angry Men (a classic movie that is so very, very good), a Book Called Crucial Conversations, and an organization called Braver Angels.

So, as we navigate the choppy waters of today's societal debates, let's remember the value of stepping into uncomfortable conversations with open ears and hearts. In these moments of vulnerability, we find our shared humanity and the potential for real, lasting change in our community and beyond."

by Larry Odebrecht, Stillwater City Council

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