Let’s Not Be Gridlocked on our Differences

One takeaway from the Trump-Biden presidential election is the polarization of America. In viewing social media, many people voiced surprise, even shock, that so many people were on the opposite side of the divide. How can this be such a close race?

Social media has turned into a format to share preferred world views. When these world views collide, they can create animosity. How could you believe that? Lines have been drawn in the sand in terms of what we cannot tolerate. This election has caused us to clarify which friends we are most aligned with and which we most different from. I have a friend who took a Facebook hiatus to establish some distance from views that she did not support or condone. She then purged 150 “friends” from her network. Another friend expressed himself passionately that he cannot and will not remain friends with people who share the values of his opposing candidate. Should we draw a line in the sand and block contact with people who were previously in our social circle?

The United States needs another reconstruction from what seemed at times like political civil war. Joe Biden will take the helm of a divided country to bridge the divide. He will embrace the nation as a whole, not just Democrats. He understands that compromise is good, and modest progress is still progress. While Joe Biden is tasked to bridge a political divide, the rest of us are tasked with bridging the divide on a personal level in our social circles. If we don’t, our country will continue to polarize. I believe it is our civic duty to engage in dialog to move our country forward.

That said, there may be times when we are best served to terminate abusive relationships in which we are bullied or disrespected. Political extremists are generally not interested in the give and take of dialog. They may be overconfident in their positions and intolerant of differences.

Spencer Critchley is the author of “Patriots of Two Nations: Why Trump Was Inevitable and What Happens Next,” about why Americans have such polarized views of the world. “We must learn to respond to people in a more intuitive way,” Critchley says. “We must build trust. Connect first, debate later.” He makes several suggestions for talking with fellow Americans of opposing political beliefs.

  1. Right from the start, show respect, goodwill, and vulnerability. Leave your defenses behind and show you’re ready to be honest and authentic.
  2. Control the natural human instinct to judge people who disagree with you. Just be aware of what they’re saying without trying to correct them. You can return to your differences later, maybe, after you’ve established trust.
  3. Look for your points of agreement. De-emphasize the differences. Trust can grow from shared values.
  4. Focus on building trust, not making points. When ideological opponents can stop vilifying each other, and can stop viewing different viewpoints as evil, American society can resume the work of compromise and progress.
  5. Don’t expect opposition to disappear. The point is not to eliminate conflict but to repair our society’s ability to handle it constructively.

 Our goal should be to establish a dialogue about our differences that communicates respect rather than allowing our differences to fall into a gridlock.

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