In this section I lay out my current point of view on causes, potential solutions and what success at addressing this challenge looks like.
What really is the core of the problem I am trying to address?
- Differences of opinion are not the problem. I’m a champion of diversity of opinion.
- Verbal/written disagreement over the differences also is not a problem; this should be a welcome method of learning and growth.
- Even polarization, in and of itself, I don’t personally feel is a problem, as long as the two poles are able to listen to, learn from and collaborate with one another.
The problem is that inability to listen, learn and collaborate with opposing viewpoints. In my view, that is rampant in America today. And I define it, simply, as “alienation.”
The problem is the inability to listen, learn and collaborate with opposing viewpoints. In my view, that is rampant in America today. And I define it, simply, as “alienation.”
In my view, alienation generally occurs in one or both of two ways:
“Self-Initiated Alienation:” In this behavior, one pre-supposes malice by an opposing thinker. Example: “You voted for Trump, therefore you must be a racist, xenophobic, misogynist.” This causes one to self-alienate toward that other. (There is a lot of research on why humans do this. Will address in a later blog post.)
“Elicited Alienation”: In this case, one’s presuppositions about the other are sensed by that other, offend them, turn them defensive and thereby cause them to be alienated toward the first party.
The problem with alienation is that it inhibits, if not outright blocks, one’s ability to collaborate with another. And we need to collaborate with others in order to advance our own interests. How do we form teams? Conduct business? Solve problems unsolvable by more than one person? How do we date (“Trump voters please swipe left”)?
The problem with alienation is that it inhibits, if not outright blocks, one’s ability to collaborate with another. And we need to collaborate with others in order to advance our own interests.
Collaboration is a core behavior necessary for human survival and advancement. Certainly, there are humans with which it is, logically or morally, inappropriate to collaborate. Hitler is the favored cliche. The problem is, we have a tendency to want to make people into Hitler who are not, indeed, “Hitler.” Would it help to consider that they also think we are “Hitler?” We can’t both be right (hopefully?). Possibly, even, we are both wrong.
This propensity to alienate causes us to carelessly and often illogically throw in front of ourselves unnecessary obstacles to collaboration and self-advancement. If all Trump voters truly are racist, xenophobic, misogynists, that would be one thing. But does one truly know they are all racist, xenophobic, misogynists? All 63 million of them? Has one spoken with each of them, individually and asked? Of course not.
So why is it logical and self-advancing to presuppose that they are malicious and therefore we should be alienated from them?
What we need to work on is this self-defeating propensity for careless, self-initiated alienation. That is the core of it.
Am I suggesting that everyone needs to invest the time to truly understand everyone else’s opinions? Personally meet all 65 million Trumpians? No, I am not. One option is, yes, to become more informed. But another option is simply to recognize when one is not sufficiently informed of another’s viewpoint to conclude that they are malicious. If one accepts this humility, one avoids needlessly erecting poorly-considered obstacles to collaborating with others.
That’s my initial premise.