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Us and Them: How did we become so polarized?

Panel at CMU event to discuss polarization of public discourse

Us and Them: How did we become so polarized?

Us versus them. Left versus right. One religion versus another. Who have we become? At Canadian Mennonite University's upcoming Face2Face conversation, four panelists will reflect on the polarization prevalent in our society today and how we can engage with people whose opinions are opposite from ours.

The public is invited to attend the discussion, titled, "Us and Them: How did we become so polarized?" It will take place on Monday, February 10 at 7:00 PM in Marpeck Commons (2299 Grant Ave.) and will be simultaneously livestreamed. Admission is free and all are welcome.

"Since the mid-90's, I have been involved in helping people have difficult conversations in many contexts, from protracted conflicts in sectarian neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland, to helping families navigate the heartache and legal maze of separation and divorce," says Sandy Koop Harder, a professional mediator, partner, and business manager for Facilitated Solutions. "And I have seen, time and again, the power of dialogue, even in situations of polarized conflict where there appears to be no hope of the parties ever agreeing."

Panelists will explore their personal experiences with polarized discourse and the factors that have led our communities, churches, and broader society to this place. They will discuss their hopes for how we might walk in a better trajectory in this divided world, when building meaningful relationships between people who see the world through completely different lenses feels increasingly rare.

"Sometimes we so desperately seek agreement that we overlook a much more important element—understanding. When we work at building understanding as the primary goal in polarized discourse, we have the potential to transform both the conversation and the relationship, regardless of whether we agree or not," says Koop Harder.

The panel will feature:

  • Larry Updike, former radio host;
  • Will Braun, farmer and writer;
  • Sandy Koop Harder, mediator for Facilitated Solutions; and
  • Marnie Klassen, CMU social theology student.

"In my role as journalist, my job is to understand and reflect as accurately as possible people from across the spectrum," says Will Braun, farmer, former co-editor of Geez magazine, and journalist who writes for Canadian Mennonite magazine. "I have never regretted the times when I tried my darnedest to understand someone whose views I thought were nuts."

Paul Doerksen, Associate Professor of Theology and Anabaptist Studies at CMU, will moderate the 90-minute event, which will include opportunities for comments and questions from the audience.

"In broad terms, the Christian embrace of peace, reconciliation, love, and forgiveness as part of our following of Jesus makes discernment regarding the situation in which we find ourselves very important," says Doerksen. "Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche, makes the interesting claim that politics reflects not so much outer circumstances as our inner fears. What kinds of inner fears might drive polarization in politics—and not just there, but also in the church?"

Started in 2013, Face2Face is a series of conversations organized by CMU, designed to engage the community on a wide variety of current events and issues at the intersection of faith and life. Previous events have explored marijuana legalization, urban reserves, and cohabitation. For more information and for the livestream feed, visit


About CMU
A Christian university in the Anabaptist tradition, CMU's Shaftesbury campus offers undergraduate degrees in arts, business, humanities, music, sciences, and social sciences, and graduate degrees in Theology and Ministry, Business Administration, Peacebuilding and Collaborative Development. CMU has 1,600 students, including those enrolled in degree programs at its Shaftesbury Campus and Menno Simons College Campus. CMU is a member of Universities Canada.

For information about CMU, visit

Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications & Marketing; 204.487.3300 ext. 621
Canadian Mennonite University
500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB R3P 2N2

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