When I sat down to start typing this column I fully intended to try and convince you readers that out of the ashes of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process there was some great lesson to be learned or that we could use it as a teaching moment for the next generation.
But the sad truth is I couldn’t convince myself of that let alone anyone else.
In reality it was horrible moment in U.S. history that served to not only widen the ideological gap between neighbors and families across the country but also further fan the flames of discontent.
In the end we all lose because the old saying rings true: United we stand, divided we fall.
For those who regularly read my musings, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve been strangely quiet when it comes to political commentary.
The reason for that is simple: I just can’t stomach any of it anymore.
For much of my life I’ve been a mass consumer of all things political and a staunch advocate of letting opinions be known – particularly mine - but up until a few weeks ago I’ve spent months trying to avoid the headlines and detach from the vile political rhetoric and verbal diarrhea that is tearing the fabric of our society apart.
Mainly because even though I firmly believe that in order to move forward as a nation in a positive, productive manner, we must communicate with open minds and hearts, it has become nearly impossible to engage in a healthy dialog with anyone on any given topic at this point.
And watching the news confirms that.
The forces on the left and right have brainwashed the public into believing that there is only one side — the side you are on.
I’ve written about this phenomenon at length in past opinion pieces but I never imaged it could get this bad.
Yet here we are on the flip side of a grueling, vile, disgusting Supreme Court nomination process, which not only chewed up and spit out several of the main participants in the story, but also somehow also managed to further the social dysfunction.
But it doesn’t need to be like this.
And as I watched the proceedings unfold and the public protests and the talking heads on cable news outlets further entrench themselves on the right and left, I got to thinking – isn’t there a better way?
We have to come together if we are going to survive as a nation and as neighbors and families. We have to open our minds to the possibility that there is more than one way to look at something and there’s nothing wrong with having a different opinion or feeling or idea.
This week one of my friends who mostly leans opposite of me on the political spectrum – but for whom I have a great deal of respect – posted a link to an article covering this very topic on Facebook.
The piece, from 2017 was written by Peter Coleman, Ph. D., and tackles the subject of division in an article entitled “Tired of Feeling Divided? What Americans can do to De-Polarize our Nation.”
It’s a good read but three sections stood out to me.
Coleman writes (in part):
You see what you look for.Even when you feel like the ‘truth’ is on your side, remember our human tendency to selectively pay attention to information that supports what we already believe, and to avoid attending to information that challenges our beliefs. This is what psychologists call “confirmation bias, and we all do it. None of us are neutral in the way we take in information, and that’s ok, as long as we know it and can account for it in ourselves with humility, honesty, and a little disciplined openness.”
Pay attention.Research also tells us that over 90 percent of our daily behaviors are automatic - things we do every day without thinking (like driving a car or reacting to our kids, neighbors, coworkers and family). Many of our automatic behaviors contribute to widening our divisions. So pay attention and try something new. When was the last time you really listened to the POV of a member of the other party just to learn what they might have to offer? Not to sell or persuade or criticize or demean, but just to try to understand or discover something new?
Believe in change.Knowing that people and situations and yes, even we, can and do change is a core implicit belief that is at the root of getting out of these polarization traps. Research has shown that when people believe that others can change, they tend to approach them more cooperatively, see more value in engaging with them and voicing their concerns, and have lower levels of intergroup hatred and anxiety and more willingness to interact or compromise with members of out-groups.
It would benefit us all to think about these three things the next time we find ourselves ready to offer up a knee-jerk reaction to friend or family member’s opinion.