So we’re a polarized nation. Now what?

Half of Democrats say they are ‘afraid’ of the Republican Party, and half of Republicans express the same feelings towards the Democratic Party. Majorities on both sides hold not just unfavorable, but very unfavorable views of the other party (Pew Research Center). Society is polarized, divided and in opposition. This isn’t news. And like any cultural poison, it doesn’t isolate itself to one realm – it seeps into other part of our environment; science, religion, social justice, you name it.

Being aware of our polarization can spur us to try and mitigate it. Apropos of awareness, I have found that ‘being aware’ is an alluring catchphrase. Yet it leaves many people feeling uneasy and confused about the ‘what next.’ In this vein, I have aggregated five simple phrases that may help as we converse about heated and polemic issues. They are simple, effective and largely underused.

  1. “I would like to hear your perspective.” Invite the other person to share with you. With just this one phrase, he or she will instantly feel like you value his or her opinion because you are politely asking to hear it. This translates to a feeling of respect. Your conversation partner will be less defensive and more open from the get-go.
  2. “What makes you feel that way?” Invariably, your conversation partner will say something that triggers a nerve. Don’t respond in anger, instantly add your clever rebuttal or jump to a conclusion about his or her intelligence level. Dig a little deeper. Get to the ‘why.’ Some people aren’t eloquent. They might need an opportunity to explain in more detail what they meant, or they may actually have a valid reason for feeling the way they do.
  3. “Do you mind if I share my viewpoint?” For Pete’s sake, don’t assume anyone wants to hear your opinion. Check in first. If you ask, and they agree, then they will listen. If you ask and they say ‘no,’ then don’t waste your time. If someone doesn’t want to hear it, they’re not going to hear it – even if you’re blowing hot air in their face.
  4. “Diversity of opinion is a good thing, it’s part of the democratic process.” Point out that you’re on the same team. This unites you in a common goal; contributing to said democratic process. And you’re framing your differences as something positive. Say this enough, and you might actually start to appreciate those who disagree with you.
  5. “Thank you for sharing with me.” Be gracious. Thanking someone for sharing with you does not mean that you agree with them. It implies that you recognize the time they took to share with you and that you value the effort they made to communicate. This conclusion to a conversation is far preferable to a hurled insult. And any time you insult someone you generally justify it, and justifying it means convincing yourself that you’re superior. And this is a serious problem contributing to polarization.

 

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