Don’t mention politics. Or vaccinations. Or masks. It feels like we live in a time when opinions are becoming increasingly polarised. The divide between the opinion of one group, compared to that of another, can feel like an impossible divide to bridge.
What is going on that makes this happen and how can we begin to think about challenging some of these divides?
The path to a polarisation of opinions lies in a sense of our own vulnerability. As change happens and individuals begin to feel that they are becoming less significant and influential, the sense of existential fear grows. Ultimately this could lead to the notion that you and what you know and value could be wiped out. This can feel unbearable and gives a sense that one must find what feels safe and hold on to it. The collective nature of thinking, that we seek out those who think as we do, provides the security that can feel lacking.
The divide between those who you agree with and those that you don’t agree with, can be further reinforced by the perception of who the other side are. Leaders and the partisan media lead us to believe that everyone on the other side thinks in a way that is so different from us that they must be disagreed with and diminished.
Common ground can feel impossible to imagine when our desire to feel significant and understood, keep us marooned in our respective camps.
Such divides can feel challenging when they present in our interactions be they familial, social or workplace. The desire to avoid conflict and a potential break down of relations can keep us away from the topic. When we avoid addressing what drives our fear of the others opinion, the divide will only grow.
Looking at how to address polarised views we must always try to remain curious. What does someone’s point of view mean to them? What values, if any, do we share? In asking this it reminds us that in any polarising situation there can be grey areas, which may be common to both sides. Thinking about the other viewpoint we need to be aware of our own perceptions of those who support it. Are we making judgements based on generalisations? Thinking that you can change someone’s point of view isn’t a helpful strategy. It seldom works. If it feels too challenging, can we acknowledge difference and walk away?
Among so many differing points of view it would be easy to retreat and never try to understand beyond our own opinions. If we stick to that pattern of relating how can we hope to bridge some of the divides in present thinking?
Further reading by David Work –