Bring in the depolarization mojo! Being a human can be hard. Other humans can be hard. When things get challenging, we often make them more challenging by adopting an US v THEM mindset.
We polarize the issue at hand, and then choose our “side.” And often choose others’ “sides” for them! Let’s explore how this happens, what gets missed and what can do about it.
How polarization gets rolling
We find ourselves in a family argument, a pandemic, a highly-charged work meeting or a political mess—situations that can be challenging and painful on their own—and uncover we’re at odds. Often on a key and pivotal point. We then take a complex, nuanced and difficult situation, and boil it down to binary views.
Next, we create camps. As the word binary suggests, it’s usually two. Going forward, everyone gets jammed into one camp or the other, because it’s less complicated for our over-stimulated mind.
A person that voted republican is a “Trumper.” A person that voted democrat is a communist. A person that is vaccinated for COVID is a liberal sheep. A person that isn’t vaccinated for COVID is a dangerous anti-vaxxer. And on. You get the idea. Complex person with a variety of beliefs, experience and ideas gets boiled into a one radical bucket.
Enter big tech. Social media algorithms are engineered to feed you more of what you’re interested in. More of what will excite and engage you. Click on a lot of recipes, or even just spend more time viewing recipe posts? You’ll notice loads of recipe posts and related products coming up in your feed. Frequently click on posts about how democrats/republicans are ruining the country? More posts that fire you up and engage you will magically appear. These algorithms are sophisticated beyond our wildest imagination and are shaping politics and culture.
What happens next? You begin to think that there’s no other way to view things. Everything you’re reading or watching agrees with your viewpoint. People that don’t view things as you do seem ridiculous and stupid. Even dangerous. Then? You plop them onto one side of the binary view of a topic, as illustrated earlier. The side opposite you. You’re now enemies, facing off.
How on earth can we expect countries to get along if we can’t even do it one-to-one?
6 Depolarization mantras
A whole book could be written on what polarization misses. Maybe there are whole books. These six mantras can help move us into a depolarization mindset:
- We all matter. No human is more valuable than another.
- Everyone has wisdom and experience. Everyone is worth listening to. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Further…
- We rarely learn from the people we agree with. There is often much to learn from the people we disagree with.
- A person’s choice is rarely motivated by a singular data point or belief. When we’re in the polarization mindset, we miss the opportunity to get curious. To unpeel the onion. Because…
- Pick almost any topic, and you’ll find it’s complex. Not only that…
- The word TRUTH (or FACT) is subjective. Whether we’re talking about politics, business, science, philosophy, religion or any other subject—we only know what we know in the moment. Then we realize 1, 3, or 200 years later that we had it all wrong. Maybe math is the exception to this rule. Maybe not.
Another big drag about polarization is that we may rule out would-be-friends based on our “sides” on a topic. And we get all judge-y with our “other-sided” current friends, family members and colleagues and perhaps our view of them becomes jaded. We laugh a little less in their presence. Have a little less patience for them. Discount more of what they say as bunk. Internally roll our eyes more. You get the idea.
But I have GREAT NEWS. YOU can make a difference. You can become a depolarization superhero in your own world, and in the larger world of which you’re part. Because there are tools that you can use to open your mind and heart. Let’s check it out.
6 Tools for depolarization
These 6 tools help me navigate challenging conversations. They support me in keeping my mind and heart open, especially when that feels hard.
- Listen to understand.
Entertain the ideas of others. Listen to understand, instead of to defend your position. You don’t have to agree; just truly listen.
- Be fact-savvy.
Be cautious of “facts,” aka “truths”. What we know is changing by the minute. A ground-breaking discovery today is next week’s old news. Unarguable facts are rare.
- Explore both sides.
If you were engaging in formal debate on an issue you feel strongly about, what would the counterarguments be? Ask your most open-minded, independent-thinking friend to provide the flip side of the coin.
- Practice humility.
Humility means you understand that you’re no better and no worse than anyone else. Including those you disagree with. Lead with curiosity and keep an open mind.
You can disagree with someone and still love them. On purpose. Because love is a verb. Chances are that the love you share is more important than the debate at hand, anyways.
- Consider and respect.
With each conversation, each social media post and each email, consider: Am I contributing to a thoughtful dialogue or to division? This doesn’t mean we always agree. We often don’t. Yet we can disagree respectfully.
Getting along can be hard
What’s hard and what’s right are often the same thing. It bears repeating: These depolarization tools can feel hard. We love our own beliefs and often can’t imagine why any ninny would think differently. Remember, we don’t have to agree with or accept another’s beliefs. Just listen with an open mind and consider. As my man Aristotle said…
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
I would rephrase that from educated mind to wise mind. I think that’s what he meant, knowing him so well and all (ha!). But it’s important to point out that you can be four years old, or 90 years old with an 8th grade education, and have a wise mind.
Getting along is hard but it’s worth the effort. It’s easy to be mean…much harder to remain open-hearted and consider both “sides.” To develop a depolarization mindset. I invite you to find 1 or 2 or 6 of these tools that resonate with you and give ‘em a whirl as you navigate topics, people or situations that ruffle your feathers. Let me know how it goes!
To your empowered well-being,
I think a key to developing a depolarizing mindset is to recognize that for many issues, there are not just “two sides.” Most complex issues in our society don’t have yes or no answers. Best solutions are not black or white, but shades of gray. In many cases, approach A works well, but there are specific situations in which B or C works better. We need to develop a habit of thinking conditionally.
Yes! I love that you caught on to my putting “sides” in quotes. Binary doesn’t work. This a beautiful and succinct summary Corrine, and I appreciate your term “thinking conditionally.” Curiosity and inquiry. Because “Complex person with a variety of beliefs, experience and ideas gets boiled into a one radical bucket.” is rarely (never?) the truth. Thank you!