I rarely look back on failed ventures with lasting regret. I take account of what went wrong and move on with a new plan. But now I’m worried. Credible scholars of history, noting the current partisan political rift, suggest that a country divided is most at risk of succumbing to autocratic rule, the end of democracy as we’ve known it. Whatever the outcome of the coming election, working to heal that divide and come to better know and understand each other, not only makes sense, but seems critically important. So far, to my enduring regret, my effort to join with others to have healing conversations have failed. Over time, with study, I think I’ve come to understand some aspects of that failure. Here is the story:
My long-standing friend (and fellow mediator), Bob Rack, and I, reached out to a colleague, Greg Adams, also my friend of long standing. We knew from a public meeting at which Greg had spoken that his support for the Trump presidency was thoughtful and consistent with his long-held values and political beliefs. Following the election, we invited him to bring a like-minded friend and join us for a series of conversations. The plan was to meet and prove that people of good will could share points of view, come to better understand each other, and reduce the alienation born of partisan differences.
The four of us met several times over the year that followed. Although we maintained a calm, civil and even friendly mood, for me, it was at the price of sincerity. At the meeting which proved to be our last, Greg spoke with admiration of Trump’s willingness to be so politically incorrect. I returned his smile while wanting to scream, “How can you possibly believe that?”.
Now regret has become my daily companion. How can it be that Greg and I experience such a different reality? With the help of Google, I sought an answer to this question. This is what I learned:
According to social psychologist Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, who has studied this issue and published his findings, both online* and in academic journals, “…we view what we are predisposed to believe differently than those things we are biased against believing.” Specifically, he explains, “…for desired conclusions we ask ourselves, ‘Can I believe this?’, but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, ’Must I believe this?’
Gilovich draws upon the work of social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind (Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion), and a scholar both Greg and I hold in high regard. His research documents the bias we each bring to what we adopt as reality. Haidt writes, “If we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it …you only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must.”
Questioning the impact of human activity on global warming is a good example. Those for whom this is an unpalatable conclusion ask, “Must I believe this?” Despite the scientific consensus, they can always find at least one piece, or even several pieces, of supporting evidence to justify their disbelief. Those inclined to believe the premise ask, “Can I believe this?” and find ample evidence to solidify their belief. Two different realities.
The key then, to understanding what appears to be the lack of a shared reality, is to question and come to understand the underlying bias (and values), our own and those of our conversation partner. I’ve developed a series of questions, personal, but non-political, for each of us to answer when we come together once again. I believe this will foster self-disclosure and lead us to respect how our different realities were formed. In the past, we had not done that. No doubt we made unspoken assumptions about each other, but they remained unspoken and unexamined. We did not gain understanding. We just drifted further apart.
Of course, the critical question now is had we done so, would it have made a difference? Putting aside past regret, we’ve reached out to Greg, and he has agreed to meet again and continue to work on developing a model we could offer to others ready to take part in healing the divide. If successful, with a newly gained ease and knowledge of each other, we might take the next step: testing each other’s reality by stating the argument in favor of their position so well that they respond, “I couldn’t say it better myself.”
Taking a step towards protecting democracy might be the prize.
13 thoughts on “Healing the Divide Revisited”
May I post this on my Facebook page?
Excellent information … and Wonderful news ! Thanks to all willing to take advantage of this opportunity.
Nail hit on head—and with names not withheld!
The master authoritarian gets bolder every day. White Supremacy outfits like Proud Boys are empowered day after day, apparently willing to overlook such photo moments as T and M making an obligatory stop at Justice G’s coffin. And evangelists must be thrilled to get a devout Catholic on the high Court—likely jammed through in time for a reliable vote on election issues. And Israel-oriented Jews are charmed that peace with UAE et al. has improved: hasn’t this been in the making for years way before at before T got involved?
STAY SAFE, Bea. Ken
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I expect another essay will be forthcoming after we give this new plan a trial run.
Ken, my friend, Greg Adams, reviewed a draft of this entry and authorized my using his name. I’m pleased that he did. Now we just have to make it work.
Your dedication to understanding what divides us and coming up with a plan to try to bridge our divides gives me hope and inspiration! Looking forward to hearing the next chapter in this quest for understanding. Thank you for sharing these experiences and ideas.
Susan J. Steinberg, PhD, LLC
After more thinking, another response. Bea, I want to let you know how much I admire you for the questions you ask, the research you do, the honesty with which you look at yourself, your willingness to be vulnerable by sharing some of what you find when you do that hard looking. I think about how you keep re-defining your sense of purpose (my words), and I learn from that. I am glad you are in my life.
P.S. Do you feel people on the other side also are working to bridge this country’s divide? Or maybe, when we are the ones in power, our motivation to bridge the divide is lower.
Yes, I live in a house divided. We basically have to avoid TV, news radio and talking about many subjects to have the calm peace we want. We would like to understand or communicate with each other, but defensiveness and irrational communication takes over.
The questions in your blog may help, but only to those who are willing to change. As stated, very hard. I think that question is could I think differently?
If our candidates would only propose and work towards what they believe versus attacking the other it would help. Debates have even become attack audios. And social media further divides w more attacks v what I am looking for in educational conversations or ads.Many of my friends have left social media platforms because only 2 bad outcomes from their posts remain: talking to their audience only (which also gets boring) or their posts unintentionally have an air of “I know better” creating anger, defensiveness and a compelling reason to dig deeper into the opposite viewpoint.
I truly am hurting for the divisiveness. I hope you have hope.
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Glad to see this.
I’m eager to hear more about your renewed conversations. All of you are courageous.
I hope rash and impatient residents of our country will permit the rest of us time to connect and reflect together.
Bea, I salute you, as always for trying to find the middle road and the path to understanding. Penny Gates
Fascinating ideas. I look forward to a report of your next conversation with Greg.
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Bea, I need to read this again I think. “Busyness” kept me from reading it sooner but it struck such a chord. You and Greg were the keys to my professional success and I am fairly well acquainted with his views, having spent much time in conversation with him). My time spent the last couple of years on greater understanding of spirituality and emotional intelligence lead me so much closer to your views, yet with a deep understanding of your conundrum about Greg. I share it. We hold the dark and light in our hands, striving for non duality. Thank you for you.