Are you fatigued and disheartened by the current amount of polarization in the world today? Are you frustrated with leadership that divides instead of unites?
Instead of wishing someone would do something about it and feeling helpless, focus on the place you have the most control – your own immediate sphere of influence. Take an honest look at your own beliefs and actions, and consider how you might be contributing to perpetuating the polarization.
Negating people who don’t agree with you alienates them and makes it impossible to find common ground. Indeed, some people, like white supremacists and neo-nazis, are so filled with hate that there can be no common ground. But most people are not that extreme, and it is important that they not be pushed to the edges.
Polarization is self-reinforcing.
If you only talk with people who agree with you and only read and listen to news sources that hold your own viewpoint, you will get distorted, filtered information that simply reinforces your viewpoint.
Unless we let go of foregone conclusions, only looking for proof of what we already believe, we are doomed to be stuck at deeply opposed, unresolvable poles.
According the the JFK Library, one of Kennedy’s favorite quotes was based on Dante’s Inferno: ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.’ Is it possible that the level of polarization today has become a moral crisis? If so, how can you stop contributing to polarization without compromising your views?
It doesn’t have to be either/or. You can do both – you take a stand for what you believe and also not contribute to polarization.
Three steps to take a stand without polarizing others.
What do you think would happen if you took these 3 steps, and encouraged your friends to do so also?
Step One: Set your viewpoint and judgments aside and get a wider range of views about what is going on.
Seek accurate information. Get as many facts as possible. What occurred or is occurring now?
You can’t depend on the “news” to spoon-feed you. The idea of unbiased journalism died a long time ago. Technology has created access to many direct sources of news. However, not all of it is accurate. And you must actively sift through the so-called information, look for patterns and identify those who are pushing an agenda rather than reporting facts. Here are tips to determine accuracy of what you find on the internet and how to evaluate the validity of research that is quoted.
Listen for understanding. What are the viewpoints of those you might not agree with?
It might be hard to listen to other viewpoints, especially when they are laced with anger and hatred. But there are nuggets of truth. And it is our responsibility to sift them out. Here are 5 tips for how to really listen.
Step Two: Now pick your judgment back up. Put what you’ve learned through your own filter of beliefs, values and feelings to make sense of it. Ask yourself:
- Do you see a bigger picture?
- Can you imagine how people you disagree with might have come to their conclusions?
- Is there any common ground where you do agree with them?
- What are the areas where you agree on the same desired end result but disagree on the means to achieve it?
- How does seeing this affect your stand?
- How does it affect your beliefs about those who don’t agree with you?
Step Three: Choose your actions wisely and intentionally.
You don’t have control over what you feel, but you have a choice about what you do. Reactivity might make you feel better in the moment, but it often leads to regret down the road.
The best thing you can do is allow yourself to feel anger or whatever arises without taking action. Once you no longer feel reactive, then choose a response that is respective of the other person and still honest about where you are. Use the word “I” instead of “you.”
If you find yourself generalizing about “those people,” it’s time to pause and go back to step two.
Remember to be honest with yourself that the “truth” you see is a filtered one.
Photo credit: Bigstock/JohanSwanepoel | How to Take a Stand Without Polarizing Others
Thank you for the advice in step 2 especially. The other articles you linked are quite helpful. Amazingly you wrote them before this extreme polarization became so intense. It hurts my heart to see how people react to disagreements. Whatever happened to “agree to disagree agreeably”? When did “I disagree with you” become “I hate you”? I have adopted the ‘listen more, talk less’ response.
“Listen more, talk less.” – great advice! Thank so much for your heartfelt thoughts and deepening the conversation, Jane.
Wish that we could collectively take this advice.
It’s not impossible. A ripple spreads from each drop of water. But we need to start with deep personal intention and commitment.
Great concise advice, Jesse. All humans want to be seen, understood, and feel valued. Sometimes just listening to a person complain and seeking to understand what they feel they lost or are losing will help them release their anger and pain. We all need to practice compassionate listening to each other.
A lovely description of the value of “compassionate listening.” Thanks for your insights, Marcia.
These are great suggestions Jesse! Thanks.
So glad you found this helpful Barbara.
I enjoy reading your posts Jesse. Here is one takeaway nugget… you say, “And you must actively sift through the so-called information, look for patterns and identify those who are pushing an agenda rather than reporting facts.” Thank you.
Thanks Soraya. We must use critical thinking skills and determine for ourselves what makes sense. It takes a little more effort but will keep us from being someone else’s pawn.
Well said and well presented. i followed your links also. Thanks.
Great to hear that. Thanks Marye Gail.
Great / important topic and, as usual good suggestions. A few thoughts:
1. “Now pick your judgment back up. Put what you’ve learned through your own filter of beliefs, values and feelings to make sense of it.” My question: Aren’t our “judgements” just another way of describing our “beliefs, values, and feelings” really?
2. “Put what you’ve learned through your own filter of beliefs, values and feelings to make sense of it.” I strongly argue that, prior to addressing this, you MUST use your listening, gathering, assessing for relevance and value, organizing, Considering, and Effective Learning of Step 1 to self-assess and refine as appropriate those “beliefs, values, and feelings” that will be used as filters. To not do so, I suggest, is itself polarizing!!!
3. “You don’t have control over what you feel, …” Oh but you do have a choice, an opportunity – I’d argue a responsibility, to exhibit control not only of your feelings but also beliefs and values. My thoughts in #1 above point to this critical step!!! As you so appropriately point out, they will be the filters through which your actions are planned.
4. I truly value your list of questions we should ask ourselves in Step 2.
5. “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” Yes, there are those who do just that. Even worse, may I suggest, are those who are neutral (honestly) but won’t own up to it. Rather they allow themselves to be swept into participation in one of extremes of the moral crisis – because they won’t even own up to the neutrality. Or, maybe more fair on my part, they felt they had to “join” because of inferred threats to themselves, their families and friends. E.g., Hitler followers.
Lots of great points, John. So glad my post stimulate your thinking! Completely agree with you on all your points. Thanks so much for taking this conversation deeper and further illuminating these important thoughts.
I have to admit that I’ve started pulling away from people a lot since late last spring. It’s impacting my business a bit because I don’t trust many people these days. It used to be we could go to LinkedIn safely because it was all about business, but what I’ve seen has shown me that people don’t seem to care that they might be showing the world the worst of themselves; it’s disappointing.
I understand, Mitch. And my heart aches to hear this. Polarization creates a lack of safety. I am reminded of the words of Emma Lazarus “Until we are all free, we are none of us free,” and I am dedicated to a day that we all can feel free and safe.
Love this Jesse! (You are totally preaching to the choir!) 🙂
I had an interesting opportunity this week to take a stand on social media for understanding and compassion and people. Although I am not on either side in the issue people on a pole instantly assumed that I am on the other pole. Their anger and assumptions about the issue and the people involved are heartbreaking.
Underneath their harsh words is fear. And that fear is being driven by people and a culture they don’t know or understand, and by incomplete news and emotionally charged movies.
Today I offered to meet someone from that discussion, that I don’t know, for coffee and a real conversation. My goal is not to win a debate with them. But to encourage them to seek the whole truth about all issues, and to share stories that may increase their compassion and understanding.
Good for your Chery! And thanks for sharing an example of taking action. We break through the us vs. them mentality by making real contact, one conversation at a time. We need to drop our assumptions and see the other person as a human being instead of a frustrating object.
Has anyone read The 3rd Alternative by Steven Covey? I hope the hottest place in Hell isn’t reserved for those who see the big picture (the neutral part IMHO) in order to resolve conflicts.
Seeing a bigger picture changes what you want to take a stand for. You take a stand for common ground and the greater good.
Great post, Jesse! Not only because of the self awareness that you create, also because of the tools you give to support someone else to stop their repeating thoughts and stories about a complicated situation that is hijacked by the negative connection of the parties involved. Those attitudes need to be broken and replaced by positive thoughts in order to solve the problem and improve relationships. This article just helps to ask the right questions.
Great point, Caroline, about how we get hijacked by the stories we tell ourselves and what we believe of other’s stories. The meaning we assign to events can either support us positively or further reinforce a negative stance.