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The Left and Right Divide - Matthew Legge

 
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Hi Matthew:

I am wondering if it is even possible to bridge the divide between the Left and the Right in the US.  The philosophies of both are just so different. These two approaches to reality are so different, you can't bridge the divide.  People end up living in a bubble where they can't relate to anyone outside of it.  They belong to different groups, live in different geographical areas, read and view different media entirely.

Does your book deal with how to cross this chasm or if it is even possible?  I know many a family that is divided over political views.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Best,

Paul M.
 
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Pavel Mikoloski wrote:I am wondering if it is even possible to bridge the divide between the Left and the Right in the US.  The philosophies of both are just so different. These two approaches to reality are so different, you can't bridge the divide.  People end up living in a bubble where they can't relate to anyone outside of it.  They belong to different groups, live in different geographical areas, read and view different media entirely.



I'm not Matthew, obviously, and I haven't read the book yet...but as a person who went from one side to the other, I wanted to encourage you that it is possible to bridge the divide.

However, it takes a lot of patience and acceptance from the bridge builder and a willingness to approach the bridge from the other person.

There are far more similarities between any two people than differences IMO. Maybe you both have a garden or like cooking or have pets. Focus on your similarities and someday maybe they will think, "Hey, this person is just like me, except for that one thing. Maybe that one thing isn't as big a deal as I thought it was."

Many people are in a bubble and are fed a fearful image of the "other side". If you can demonstrate that you are not scary and are not consistent with the image they have been fed, that is a first step to that person questioning the validity of their information sources.

When dealing with my own family, we stop the conversation just before it gets emotional. We aren't in a hurry and only talk about heavy, world-changing stuff when everyone is in the mood. And the mood can change very fast. It can be scary and disorienting losing a worldview. It can make people angry and defensive.

For a lot of people, the first time that they have actually thought about a certain aspect of their beliefs, will be when you just asked them. It's nice to give them an out if they seem to be struggling. Something like, "Well just think about it and let me know if you ever wanna talk about it later."

Remind them, "I'm still your friend/family even if you don't agree with me." Many don't realize this is an option, so make sure to say it.

Of course some people will never be ready to approach the bridge. It's sad, but we can't force them. I take comfort in the fact that I have built a very nice bridge and they are welcome anytime.

I hope someday we can all hang out in the middle.

 
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Hi Paul,

Thank you for this important question! Yes the book offers many practical tips that can be used to bridge this divide to a degree. I'm not claiming it will always work or offering any guarantees, but I have collected a lot of evidence that will surprise you. Here are a few reflections on this issue in no particular order:

1) The left/right divide in the US is regularly misrepresented and amplified by the media. The book has a chapter on peace education that explains this dynamic but in a nutshell if you pick up on points of difference between people and ask them to talk about those, you can push those people further apart. But it's also possible to pick up on points of commonality, and the truth is, you have a TON in common with people you totally disagree with on some points. For instance there are all kinds of conjectures thrown out there in the media about different segments of society think or why they do what they do, but this is regularly based on imaginary caricatures of people rather than strong evidence. Many other articles will try to find the "one trait" that explains some complex situation - for instance support for Trump - as though there can be just one true reason for anything (spoiler, even if they find one trait that has some statically predictive validity, it's hardly representing the whole picture of what's going on! e.g. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/02/16/donald-trump-support-2020-oostburg-wisconsin-chevy-chase-maryland-225161, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/donald-trump-2016-authoritarian-213533)

2) Various studies find that folks in the US don't understand "the other side" so well, and drastically over-estimate how different they are. So the divide may be more about identity than about issues! For instance Democrats said 52% of Republicans would agreed with the statement: “Properly controlled immigration can be good for America.” In fact, 85% of Republicans agreed. The same perception gap exists when asking Republicans about what Democrats believe. https://perceptiongap.us. Chapter 2 of the book looks at othering (the process of seeing someone as an "other" rather than part of your group.) It's full of tips that can help when interacting with someone who you experience as being from another political party (which too often seems to be as strong of a divider in the US as if they were from another planet!)

3) There are experts hired by politicians who are very good at finding words and phrases that push emotional triggers. These words don't trigger everyone in the same way though, so they contribute to polarizing us between the people who are strongly supportive and strongly opposed. I've written a short blog post about this offering an example from George Lakoff: the term “tax relief.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/are-we-done-fighting/201905/how-language-can-polarize-us. The key point is that we may not be that far apart on key issues, but what exact words those issues are conveyed in makes a BIG difference.

Similarly studies from the US, UK, and Germany found that even on supposedly very polarizing issues like gun control, immigration, and policing, folks change their responses dramatically depending on how the information is framed https://psmag.com/news/the-grand-old-party-longs-for-the-good-old-days. So we need to learn to speak in terms that the other side cares about, understanding that they may value things differently from us. And we need to be able to translate what they're saying from their terms into ours to better hear them.

4) We're heavily influenced by polarizing messages from elites (politicians, news media pundits, etc.) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261379418301975 so a major shift could happen simply by having a small number of people tone down their rhetoric and look too for points of commonality. Not saying that's easy or even likely, but it's not impossible. I think the same about online information. A handful of companies control the information accessed and shared by billions of people. Right now platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are designed to maximize how much time we'll spend on them and how many ads we'll see. They're also designed to collect endless data about us, which can be used for psychological profiling and targeted messaging/manipulation. That's all quite disturbing. I believe it is contributing to shifting people's views - for instance fueling the spread of hateful conspiracy theories. Chapters 6 and 7 look at that. But this also means that just a few decisions by a few companies could drastically improve the situation if they built their platforms to stop promoting hateful clickbait.

5) Lots of groups are working on countering polarization and building bridges in the US. Here are just a few:
• https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/bridging_differences
• https://allianceforpeacebuilding.org/resources-for-peacebuilders/domestic-peacebuilding/
• http://ac4.ei.columbia.edu
• https://openmindplatform.org
• https://heterodoxacademy.org
• http://www.civilpolitics.org
• http://www.reckonings.show
• https://www.moreincommon.com
• https://www.solutionsjournalism.org
• http://www.thepeacemakerspodcast.com
• https://www.nifi.org
• https://narrative4.com

6) Finally the importance of communication skills can't be overstated and the book has a chapter and exercises on that.
 
master pollinator
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Most of my close neighbors, both in town and in the country, are to the right side of the spectrum, whereas I am a wild-eyed lefty.  We get along fine, even though we are well aware of each others' political leanings.  We get along by being kind and helpful to each other.  We share interests (gardening, nature, birding), tools, labor, food.  We don't discuss politics or religion much, because there wouldn't be a point.  We're all mature and set in our ways, and not likely to be persuaded by argument.

So I think the divide can be bridged by finding common ground.  I believe it's possible to find common ground with anyone who is interested in doing so.  

 
Matthew Legge
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Most of my close neighbors, both in town and in the country, are to the right side of the spectrum, whereas I am a wild-eyed lefty.  We get along fine, even though we are well aware of each others' political leanings.  We get along by being kind and helpful to each other.  We share interests (gardening, nature, birding), tools, labor, food.  We don't discuss politics or religion much, because there wouldn't be a point.  We're all mature and set in our ways, and not likely to be persuaded by argument.

So I think the divide can be bridged by finding common ground.  I believe it's possible to find common ground with anyone who is interested in doing so.  



Hi Tyler,
Well said. I would add that it's even possible to find common ground with people who think they aren't interested in doing so. The book has many examples of this, such as a former member of a hateful church group who eventually wound up leaving that group and her entire family and former life behind, simply because people reached out to her and engaged with her... on Twitter! The process took years, but dramatic shifts are sometimes possible even when a person initially seems totally opposed to them.
 
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One option for dealing with people on opposite sides of a bridge spanning some chasm, whether it's religious or political, is to realize there's no need to cross the bridge to interact in positive ways with each other. I don't care if the other person voted for Trump, Hillary, someone else, or nobody at all. I hope it won't influence how I treat them as a person because we can still love and care for others even when we disagree with things they say or choices they make.

As far as religion, I like a comment I recently saw about following the teachings of the Holy Trinity:

The Father: Mr. Fred Rogers: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world."

The Son: Steve Irwin: "We don’t own the planet Earth, we belong to it. And we must share it with our wildlife." "All you have to do in life is be passionate and enthusiastic and you will have a wonderful life."

and The Holy Spirit: Bob Ross: "We don't make mistakes; we just have happy accidents." "I guess I’m a little weird. I like to talk to trees and animals. That’s okay though; I have more fun than most people." "Be kind to yourself."
 
pollinator
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Matthew, thanks for coming on here. I’m a big fan of Lukianoff and I hope we can make progress. I hope I am doing my part. My college advisor always said peace begins with me. He was a wise guy.
 
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"Can I trust this person with my child?"
This is my starting point.
How much, and for how long, and other details matter,but it's a start.

As to discussing beliefs, I find it instructive to let a person speak their mind unchallenged.
If the relationship is a "necessary" one,  this can be a bad idea.
You might find that knowing their most strongly held beliefs makes it difficult to not fear them, be it a reasonable fear or not.
That fear will taint all if your encounters.
Mostly I look for a person's boundaries,  and signal my own.
The ability to respect boundaries is important, and the unwillingness to respect boundaries is a signal in and of itself.


 
Pavel Mikoloski
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Thank you, Matthew.  I will take the time to read all of the references you have displayed here.
 
pollinator
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There might be quite some difference when people live and now even grow up in a city, or in nature. in nature, I think we can share much more. I get along pretty well with some neighbours, but if you had told me beforehand I was going to be friend with people who are practising catholics, vegan and from the extreme right… I would not have believed it!


About politics? Now I see it from a nature point of view and I agree with none of the sides, and I could justify it though it would cost an effort. Let's say I feel it with almost no words.

Oh I try now! I see the right side as using too much resources and being based on irrealistic "growth". I see the left as not giving enough responsability to individuals and trying to replace the support of small groups by welfare. In both cases, some people benefit from either approach. And in the end none of us will really beneficiate from the earth being sucked up without thinking of resources being needed for ..how many centuries more? Even diatomaceous earth will one day be in short supply!




 
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