Q&A: Building Bridges Instead of Walls

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Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers are rising stars in the podcast world–twice a week hosting Pantsuit Politics, which boasts close to four million downloads to-date. Their first book, ‘I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations,’ will be released to the public on February 5. Here Sarah, a devoted Democrat, and Beth, a lifelong Republican, show–as they do in their podcasts–that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. Their experience building bridges instead of walls is a message needed now more than ever.

Q. What does the title of your book mean? And, especially, how are you defining the word “grace”?

A: Sarah (from the left): For me, grace means every human being has inherent worth by virtue of being born and deserves inherent dignity that should not be stripped from them no matter how abhorrent their behavior. Grace is a value separate from behavior or wealth or party or any other outside characteristic by which we try to categorize each other.

Beth (from the right): Unlike civility, tolerance, politeness, compromise, or just being nice, grace is a state of being–a quality that we have to personally embody in order to extend it to others. This quality might be informed by a faith perspective. It might also mean a secular groundedness — a confidence in your own worthiness and a sense of connection to others because of their worthiness. Grace makes space to hold the tension between and among very different perspectives, even when compromise is unlikely or impossible, with a sense that the tension is worth it. The title of our book, to me, means “we don’t have to convince each other of anything to know that we belong together.”

Q: One of you is a Republican, the other a Democrat. And you’re friends. How would you describe your personal relationship, and your working relationship as hosts of the podcast, “Pantsuit Politics”?

A: Sarah: When we started the podcast, we were not close friends. We had known each other since college but hadn’t been in touch for many years. The act of showing up with authenticity and vulnerability to discuss politics – a subject most people avoid with their closest friends – actually forged a deep bond. As our connection grew, we continued to prioritize the relationship instead of trying to score cheap political points, and that’s why now Beth is one of my dearest friends and closest confidant.

Beth: Sarah and I have entirely different perspectives on policy and very different personalities. We have discovered through our commitment to conversation that our values very closely align. We see this not only in our political conversations, but also in our approach to work and life. To me, our partnership is a testament to the fact that difference of opinion enhances almost any endeavor. Sarah pushes me to think more clearly and deeply. I want people in my life who make me better, and Sarah is at the top of that list precisely because she is so different from me.

Q: I’m sure it’s no coincidence that your book is coming out during this fractious time in our nation’s history. What’s the first step in the process of bridging the political divide in our country?

A: Sarah: We all have to take a long, hard look at ourselves. We have to closely examine our political identity and dig down deep to find the values that animate that identity. When we can start to talk about our values – both shared and divergent – as Americans, then we can start to bridge the divide.

Beth: I think coming to grips with our individual responsibilities as citizens is absolutely key. Hopelessness about politics is an abdication of responsibility and power, and it’s how we got to such a fractious time. Especially if you’re a person of moderate positions or temperament, it’s important to examine your beliefs and motivations to decide how you want to participate in your communities.

Q: How do the two of you deal with differences of opinion?

A: Sarah: We approach every conversation with the understanding that we are trying to understand each other – not convince each other. It is perfectly acceptable to have different opinions. We aren’t all going to agree on everything and that’s ok. We lose sight of that sometimes. A democracy is based on the idea that no one gets it right 100% of the time, so disagreement is essential. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. When you recognize that, it makes disagreements much easier to navigate.

Beth: We invite differences of opinion. We say up front in the book that we aren’t asking people to agree with our opinions; we’re asking readers and listeners to use our conversations as a way to examine their own opinions. We expect differences, and we want to test and challenge, and sometimes even evolve or wholly change our opinions. We write in the book about how we don’t want to freeze our political thought in time, but without differences of opinion, that’s what happens.

Q: How do you continue to strengthen your connection?

A: Sarah: Beyond being together in a business partnership and all the connection that can bring, we also talk for 2-3 hours every single week. That is more than some people talk to their spouses! A regular communicative practice like that will strengthen any connection. We are connecting and disagreeing and understanding each other better all the time through regular conversation. It’s that practice that leads to a strong connection.

Beth: I agree with Sarah that our practice of talking is a huge part of our connection. We also do simple but powerful things to show our appreciation for each other. We intentionally give each other credit for ideas. We talk openly about each other’s strengths and the ways in which we’ve positively influenced each other. Those small things affirm our commitment to each other as friends and partners.

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