Tis the Season of Political Polarization!

If you have been wondering if the political divides seem extraordinarily wide this year, you can now boast that you are correct. Data supports an expanse of opposing views that has never been quite so alarming. It resembles a tug of war that has grown so big, we no longer see our opponents. The media and political advertisements feed into our struggles with shock appeal and darts launched at one party or another.

How can this be happening? Another question that we may be able to answer without sparking another debate is: How can we have more peaceful discussions?

This weekend I walked outside to join my family and guests and immediately sensed the recognizable tone of defensiveness and unease in the air. Members of the same circles can easily get inflamed over politics.

One of them said, “But he is senile! He has to use the teleprompter every time he talks.”

The other interrupted, “At least he doesn’t say stupid things every day and tell us all to use bleach and ultraviolet light to stop a pandemic!”

“He did not say that – that’s fake news!”

“I can prove it!”

On and on it went even when one backed down and proposed a change of topic, another remark would engage the other all over again. I simply returned to the sanctuary of my kitchen, delighted to hear the clank of dishes instead.

Political “discussions” are problematic between the right and left, conservative and liberal, because deep down we are holding onto deep moral values. Political alignment reflects our underlying beliefs.

I’m just as guilty of defending my opinions. I allowed myself to get tangled in a heated political discussion with a dear friend years ago and still squabble (all in fun) with my spouse at times. Even when you are somewhat on the same side, you will undoubtedly find pockets of differences.

Research by psychologists, Jon Haidt and Jesse Graham, indicates that our political views do endorse different values. We are very unlikely to change the view of others. We can, however, appeal to the underlying value if we understand how that works.

Liberals hold to values such as equality and fairness as well as care and protection from harm. They connect policy to those beliefs when it comes to human rights and protecting the planet and other issues. Conservatives tend to value loyalty and patriotism as well as respect for authority and moral purity. The stand they take with issues reflects their devotion to our country and personal morality. Both sides believe with fervor that they are right and tend to gravitate toward those who hold similar beliefs. Our views become further entrenched when we feel threatened by opposite perspectives. Social and news media sources are savvy at feeding those feelings of opposition through methods that keep us glued to our phones and television.

Keeping this in mind is a first step toward coming together. Also, appealing to that sense of morality below the surface of political views is an area we can tread through more safely. Those views that seem so terribly offensive can be held with a conviction similar to our own.

By considering the perspective of others along with their underlying moral compass, we can make some concessions for the cavern that separates us. You may even be able to sway another to take a look at your views if you appeal to how an issue could support fairness (if speaking to a liberal) or connect to one’s position of purity when examining a topic with a conservative.

In any case, it is always good, honorable practice to treat your fellow human with respect and use empathy for who they are and what they stand for. Someday, the elections will be over and we will have a short enough season to recover before another round comes our way.

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