When you grow up in the “center of the universe” (aka Ashland, Virginia), you find yourself exposed to a variety of political persuasions. That’s especially true when your mother was the first woman elected to the local board of supervisors.  

While Chris Peace followed in his mother’s public service footsteps, he soon found his partisan path diverging. Growing up, it made for some impassioned mealtime conversations.

“It wasn’t uncommon for me to be at dinner with my grandparents, who were probably ‘FDR Democrats,’ and my mom, who was a ‘Kennedy Democrat,’ and me, who grew up in the Reagan revolution,” Peace remembers. “To me, what has always been so wonderful about policy and politics is the ability to sit around with people who you care about and just go after it. It’s not personal, but an academic exercise in the state of our society and how we make it better. You can be both Americans and love your country and have very different ways of showing that and caring about your fellow man.”

Years later, Peace would be elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates (at age 27), and he would bring that expansive attitude to legislating.  

“Not every issue is black and white, and there are a lot of things that really impact people where fair arguments can be made on both sides, and there are opportunities ripe for collaboration,” Peace says.  “My objective was philosophical, you know, sort of idealistic, but once you open up lines of communication, you find that there are far more people who share that interest than don’t.”  

Today, Peace is the president of the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia, and he sees college campuses as a venue for spirited, but respectful political discourse and expression.“I think civility is a lost art, but if there’s any place that should be a place that protects free speech and promotes civility, it’s the college campus,” he asserts. “The best private colleges want to protect their autonomy and maintain a sense of independence.”

One Small Step Conversation

Peace was one of the early participants in One Small Step, jumping at the opportunity to engage with someone with different political stripes. 

“I’d like to think that I surprised him if he had any preconceived notions of what a white male Republican would be like, but I have to admit that he surprised me – I wasn’t expecting this African-American guy from rural Virginia to be really into Star Trek,” he recalls.

Citing The New York Times columnist David Brooks’ new book, “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen,” Peace laments that we have lost the art of asking questions and listening, qualities that are at the forefront of the One Small Step experience. 

“[One Small Step] is a wonderful way to explore yourself, as well as someone else. What you get in return teaches you as much about yourself as what you might learn about the other person.”