Starting with improving your actions to heal the political divide in America.
The Moment of Disagreement
Disagreeing with someone, especially around politics, sucks. You feel like your inner beliefs and core assumptions are being challenged, and you need to change the mind of the person you’re talking to. I know the feeling.
The heat of anger, the sinking feeling that you may be wrong.
The sputtering and increase in volume when all the rationale for your political leanings exits your mind when you need it most.
The regret after the conversation and the internal dialogue: “I should’ve said this, this and this! It would’ve really validated my point”.
The Harsh Reality of American Politics
Many people have experienced this, and it’s one of the reasons our nation is so divided right now. We’ve forgotten how to peacefully and productively disagree with each other. Obviously there are many productive political conversations between those with dissenting opinions, but I’m referring to the most high profile protests where different groups scream at each other and social media forums where the conversation devolves into name calling in the span of a few comments. From my perspective (and I’m sure the perspectives of many others), this explosive and irrational form of exchange seems to be the norm. The data seems to back this up, with a study from the NY times describing the increased intensification of our political beliefs. This graph from Pew Research center helps you visualize the extent of this polarization. The American People are growing apart, and it’s making both citizen conversation and governance (which tend to be deeply intertwined) less effective.
A lot of people blame social media for amplifying the political discord. And this is partly true. But, it’s important to realize that while social media may amplify the current human forces at work, it doesn’t cause the diametrically opposed attitudes that people currently have. People naturally surround themselves with like-minded people. Social media simply reflects that reality. The result is a collection of ideological “bubbles” where people (online and offline) only get exposed to increasingly extreme opinions spanning their half of the political spectrum.
The Solution Starts With You
So with the reality of polarized political extremes and the decline of a middle ground, what can you do as an individual to help stop the proliferation of poisonous and irrational rhetoric on both sides?
- Empathize and recognize your shared humanity
You’ll never exit you ideological bubble if you don’t realize this:
No matter if you’re a Neo-Nazi, Antifa member, Trumper, or Socialist, you’re just as human as me.
Just because your views are diametrically opposed doesn’t mean the other person doesn’t have the biological motivations and psychological reactions that all humans have. Just because you think differently doesn’t mean their experience as a human being is worth less than yours.
Yes, it’s tempting to think there’s no place on this earth for people who violently hate a group of people for something they can’t control.
But if we fail to recognize their humanity and react to their hate with more of the same, their views will only be reinforced.
- Maintain self-awareness during disagreement. Breathe.
This part’s difficult. Do you raise your voice when talking to someone with an ideology different from yours? Do you start to feel anger, resentment, and maybe even hatred for people you disagree with? This is the moment you need to take stock of you emotional state, and try to control it. Deep breathing cuts off the fight-or-flight reaction that causes all the emotions in these disagreements. The rush of cortisol and adrenaline (the sources of the fight or flight reaction) stem from a deeply encoded biological reaction that developed in a time where seeing other tribes of humans was a potentially lethal event. These biological reactions evolved into modernity quite poorly.
The great thing is, we can use self-awareness to override these automatic responses to disagreement. You can disconnect yourself from these emotions through deep breathing and reflection upon why your emotions are being triggered. You are human; a conscious being, not a tribal, hormonally driven animal (though this could be debated 😉). All it takes is that moment of realization where you can retreat into your higher consciousness to overcome the monkey within. Therein lies tolerance, empathy, patience, and understanding. Attributes we all need, especially now.
- Step outside your bubble. Keep an open mind.
We all act like it’s a bad thing if we’re proven wrong. That’s wrong. If a political or ideological belief I have is factually and intuitively proven wrong, I am happy in the long run. Sound crazy? I might be. But, I also believe every conflict in life to be a learning opportunity. This is especially true in politics. There are so many layers of facts, causes and effects, and factors at work here that we all need to drop the arrogance. You don’t have all the answers.
So, since we don’t have all the answers, let’s look to people that disagree with us to expand our understanding of the infinitely complex political landscape we exist within. Follow people on social media that have insights on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Dig into their material. Digest the arguments being made while in a calm place. You might find insights that change a few opinions you have, or at least add depth and credibility to bolster your political ideas. You only add credibility, however, if you truly try to understand opposing ideas. If you try to discredit them from the get-go, you won’t be able to fully open your mind to the facts, logic, and intuition at play.
Wrapping it up
So, how will you play your part in healing this political divide? Will it be through finding common ground by recognizing your shared humanity with those who disagree? Will it be by practicing self-awareness and noticing the moments when your biological monkey wiring starts sabotaging your ability to keep cool? Or will it be by truly opening your mind and digesting opposing arguments?
However you do it, it starts with us. Do you complain about this political climate? Be the change you want to see.
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How do you overcome political disagreement? Comment below 👇