Bridging the divide through courageous collaboration

The greatest advancements in human progress—social, scientific, or otherwise—have resulted from an exchange of ideas, not borne of a single thought. Unfortunately, the polarization that grips our country today threatens continued progress. We’ve splintered into factions that focus more on what divides us than unites us. Worse is that more people want to silence opposing viewpoints rather than listen to and learn from different perspectives. We’re working to end this vicious cycle. Uniting people from all walks of life to discover new solutions to shared concerns, not in spite of, but through our differences. It’s the key to unlocking solutions to the biggest challenges facing our country today.

Collaboration—even, and especially, with those who have different ideas—is the key to unlocking solutions to our country’s biggest problems.

Our vision in action

  • The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University protects free speech in the digital age. That includes studying and increasing public awareness of the threats to online speech and privacy and freedom of the press.
  • StoryCorps’ One Small Step is counteracting our country’s polarization by bringing together people with different viewpoints for one-on-one, in-person conversations.
  • Scholars such as Kurt Gray, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina and director of the Center for Moral Understanding, are using science to better understand the cognitive roots of intolerance so others can more effectively address it going forward.

“The chief source of innovation in human society . . . is not the efforts of lonely geniuses thinking in solitude, but simply the exchange of ideas.” – Matt Ridley

Guiding principles and insights

Our differences and openness to new ideas are essential to progress

Gravity. Electricity. The Polio vaccine. Women’s suffrage. The abolition of slavery. Each of these milestones in human progress was the result of people who had different perspectives, backgrounds, and skillsets collaborating with and challenging their contemporaries while building upon the discoveries and ideas of generations before.

Despite the headlines, however, this country is full of good people who do respect the dignity and opinions of those with whom they disagree and who are willing to unite in common cause. A recent study found that 77 percent of Americans believe we can unite despite our disagreements.

We’re working to foster such unity. It’s the key to ensure the progress our country has made accelerates going forward, helping more and more people live fulfilling lives.

“The most effective way to counter the potential negative effects of hate speech . . . is not through censorship, but rather through more speech.” – Nadine Strossen, Former President of the ACLU

Civil liberties are the solution to incivility

Our country is no stranger to struggle: Civil rights and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Watergate in the 70s. The fight for LGBTQ rights in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. The list goes on.

Yet each time, we persevered. And we became a stronger and more just society. The civil liberties that served as the foundation of our country—for example, the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press, and the right to worship and peaceably assemble, among others—make it possible for courageous individuals to take courageous stands.

Despite these achievements, today many see restricting civil liberties as a solution to division. A recent poll found that nearly one-in-three Americans say the government should shut down media outlets they believe are biased or inaccurate. Many university administrators maintain speech codes that keep students from freely engaging with new ideas and with each other. Politicians try to insulate themselves from critique by discouraging involvement with certain charitable and civic organizations.

Although this is a natural instinct, it’s counterproductive. It’s especially harmful for groups of people who have historically been disenfranchised. Without free speech and the right to peaceably assemble, there might never have been national movements for civil rights and equality for the LGBTQ community. Without free press, corrupt politicians and cultural figures would have escaped accountability for abuses of power and other harms they inflicted.

More examples of work supported by the Stand Together community:

In Education
  • The Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism education organization, partners with the Charles Koch Institute to offer rising journalists the opportunity to accelerate their careers as future leaders in the media and join others in fellowship around the importance of freedom of the press through the Poynter-Koch Media & Journalism Fellowship Program.
  • International peacebuilding organization Search for Common Ground provides an alternative approach to college freshman orientation programs by equipping students with the structured space and tools to discuss differences in a way that builds trust and respect, establishes habits of constructive discourse, and prepares them to reinforce those norms during times of on-campus tension.
  • University of California, Berkeley behavior scientist Juliana Schroeder studies how we judge one another—and what we can do to keep inevitable disagreements from becoming unbridgeable divides.
In Community
  • The After Charlottesville Project—a partnership among the Charles Koch Institute, the Ford Foundation, Anti-Defamation League, Aspen Institute, and others—worked directly with communities to surface tools to combat the rise in hate, extremism, and identity violence.
  • Urban Specialists leader and founder Bishop Omar Jawar also founded the Heal America tour to create the space for communities to addresses racial tensions. The tour collaborates with One America Movement, an organization focused on reducing toxic polarization in faith communities, to provide trainings to faith and civic leaders .
  • Narrative 4 promotes collaboration between disparate groups of people by equipping them to use their stories to build empathy, shatter stereotypes, and break barriers.
In Government
  • Americans for Prosperity works with media and other coalition partners in several states to strengthen protections for journalists, whistleblowers, activists, and other individuals speaking out on issues from so-called “SLAPP” (strategic lawsuits against public participation) lawsuits in states.
  • Nearly 290 organizations signed onto 40 amicus briefs to stand alongside Americans for Prosperity Foundation in defending privacy rights for all Americans in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Americans for Prosperity partners with other civil liberty organizations to protect public safety while also protecting protest rights in Kentucky, Arizona, Georgia, and other states.

Bottom Line

Collaborating with others—especially those with whom we disagree on other issues—has led to breakthroughs that have helped millions of people improve their lives. Let’s work together to bridge our country’s divides and accelerate that pace of progress.