- When you are at parties or gatherings, do you avoid having any conversation with anybody who has different political views?
- OR have a conversation and feel drained or mad trying to prove yourself right, defend your views, or prove the other party wrong?
The great divide
If you have been listening to any news or were involved in the election process, you have surely heard, “The country [USA] is very polarized.” You are not wrong to believe this to be true. According to Robb Willer, (a social psychologist and professor at Stanford) studies show that the divide is the widest it has ever been.
When I go to any parties or gathering, I notice that people talk in a hush when talking about politics, just in case there are people from the opposite party at ear shot. I guess people are afraid of offending somebody or getting into an uncomfortable argument. At least that is one of my reason.
We live in our comfort zone
People live within their comfortable bubble. We have friends we agree with; we avoid relatives or avoid conversation with those whose beliefs are widely different. The “redistricting” of electorates has worsened the political divide. The elected officials avoid talking to the other parties. This attitude and behavior basically leads to increasing the chasm. As a consequence, we increase our problems rather than finding solutions.
If we avoid communicating to the people we disagree with, how are we going to narrow this gap? After all we have the same goals of having abundance and feeling safe and secure. The only problem is that we see different ways to achieve the goals.
According to Willer, this divide has to do with deeper moral values. These are hard to change, if not impossible. Both sides feel threatened when the other side is attempting to convince that their own moral values are right. The logical argument doesn’t work in this very emotional state.
Willer suggests “moral reframing.” For example, he suggests to argue importance of protecting the environment by conservative’s moral values like purity, free market, or patriotism rather than the liberal’s “save the earth” value. Conservatives, on the other hand, can tie military spending to the liberal’s value for “equality” or “fairness.”
Now you may be saying, “Yes, but this is easier said than done.” I agree it is very uncomfortable to enter this kind of conversation with each person having his or her guard up. It is very likely that one or both parties will be emotionally triggered to react, become angry or upset and lose control.
Stretching our comfort zone by being curious
One of the reason the discussion becomes uncomfortable is because we enter the situation with the intention to prove ourselves right and the opposite party wrong. Each of us judge ourselves by our intentions and judge others by their behaviors.
How about if we enter the situation with the attitude of curiosity rather than judgement? We ask open-ended questions, listen, and understand the other person’s values and intentions? How about if we enter with the attitude of being empathetic? All humans are wired to be empathetic by “mirror neurons.”
Developing empathy is one of the eight competencies of Emotional Intelligence. Empathy is not about putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes, it is about imagining others in their own shoes.
By understanding their intentions, goals, values, and beliefs; we can find the common values to achieve the common goals. Find what we agree on, ways to reduce disagreements, or agree to disagree.
Once we have attained mutual respect and trust, it would be a lot easier to convince the other person why your view point is important, whether it is military spending or protecting earth.
I really got inspired by Daryl Davis, an African American musician, who engaged with members of the White Supremacist group like Ku Klux Klan. He asked, “I just want to know, how can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” He didn’t enter the conversation to convert members but many wound up giving up the group once they uncovered the truth.
Watch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H19AMpELMew
Read the interview on NPR: http://www.npr.org/2014/11/14/363896136/the-silver-dollar-lounge
How about having a meetup of “unlike-minded” people to find more comprehensive solutions to major political problems?
If you are already taking actions to narrow this political divide, I would like to hear from you. Please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.