We, as Americans, cherish the freedom and right to disagree—which we do, often deeply about important issues that need resolution. But polarization undermines that freedom by tightening prejudices rather than opening thought, thus diminishing the chances for finding resolutions and moving forward. So while polarization may feel like a righteous champion of freedom and right, it is in fact just the opposite—a stick jammed in the spokes of the democratic discourse of freedom. Here are some of the common ways it does it:
- SEDUCES with loaded, heated language and childish name-calling that appeals more to emotion that reason.
- BLINKERS by using cherry-picked facts, and ignoring or mocking opposing arguments and evidence rather than actually addressing them.
- TRIVIALIZES by focusing on “straw-man” issues whose value in re-enforcing biases is clearly greater than their substance.
- BULLIES by making you feel like a dupe or a traitor if you even listen to the other side.
- FLATTERS with language and a tone that makes you feel like an insider, who, of course, agrees with them because you “get it” … just like they do.
- FRIGHTENS by portraying the other side as not just wrong, but a dangerous, evil enemy, replete with wicked hidden agendas.
- “CLANS,” that is, plays the “us vs. them” identity politics game of associating the other view with groups or people (implicitly) “inferior” to “us.”
- “TRIBES” by using the knowing winks and nods of sarcasm, coded language, words in quotes (suggesting they’re misleading) and innuendo which you, as a member of the tribe, of course, will understand without explanation or justification.
This week . . . we celebrate thanksgiving. But a recent study confirms what we suspected: Many of us dread the thought of carving the turkey with an avid supporter of Trump … or Hillary … or Bernie…or Roy Moore … or Nancy Pelosi … “the other.” That’s how deeply we have allowed the pushers of the poison of polarization to infect our country, our lives, our families. We can’t even talk to each other. But ask yourself: Do you really believe your conservative brother-in-law—or liberal nephew—truly wants to ruin the country … ignore pedophilia…crush the poor…abuse women … wreck businesses … pollute the environment … tax you to death. … Because that’s what the polarizers would have you believe. Or is it more likely that that liberal—or conservative— passing you the potatoes actually loves freedom, justice, opportunity, fairness and all the other things define America, just like you do? But that they simply have different experiences, perspectives, understandings and ideas on how to achieve those things? Yes, those differences are real. And yes, “they” might be wrong. But no, they are not your enemy. And is there no chance that they actually might be right—or at least partly right—about some of those things? After all, are you always right about everything? So this Thursday, consider gently, respectfully bending the “no politics” rule. But try listening instead of accusing, understanding instead of criticizing, learning instead of making a point, smiling instead of smirking. (For more, see Better Angels’ wonderful guide for Talking Across the Political Divide.) In short, whether you’re a left-winger or a right winger, try also to be an Angel-winger and lift the conversation above the differences to see the fuller, truer picture that is America. And celebrate a joyous thanksgiving … together.