Wednesday, June 23, 2021

How to interact with those of a different opinion in our highly polorized world.

Richard Upchurch
by Richard Upchurch - Walking our pup Howard this morning, I met a lady walking hers and wearing a shirt with the interesting motto, "Get Off The Fence." 

She was proceeding down the sidewalk quite briskly, chatting merrily with a friend also with a dog on a leash. Slowing our pace slightly, we exchanged brief greetings of the type reserved for such cursory encounters, as did the pups in their own way, but after thinking about the motto I wished I'd asked her about it. 

Perhaps enjoining people to get off the fence was meant to encourage stronger opinions, or maybe stronger opinions of a certain ilk, and standing up more steadfastly for them?

Well, maybe so. But, far as I can tell, we have no shortage these days of folks with strong opinions, especially on public and political issues, and no shortage of people well off the fence and fully engaged in the strong partisan contentions of our time, which very often, both in Washington and sometimes much closer to home, sometimes even in households, are resulting, more every day it seems, in strained and broken relationships and friendships. 

Many members of families and groups have figured out that if they want to stay friends with each other, they need to avoid bringing up the social issues proceeding from very rapid changes in fundamental human institutions and relationships, and the politics of our time so strongly polarized by these very factors.

Certainly that seems a sensible solution in many cases, and a good choice for groups and families wishing and hoping to avoid ill feeling and possible break-ups. Yet there remains the problem in families, social groups and organizations that a part of what connects us and makes us members of families, groups, citizens, and participants in our society, has thereby been subtracted, and the larger problem that we do not know how to bring it back. 

We are in many situations sweeping something under the rug, and that is the deep fractures that have appeared among us, in family, community, state and country, and the extent and nature of these fractures may portend something very grave for us as a society. But no matter what these differences, these highly polarized views held by very large number of us, perhaps spawned and cultivated to a large extent by media outlets, may or may not portend, we need all to remember that we are a nation, a "res publica," worth nurturing, preserving and celebrating----or at least have been such. 

As a counter to the forces dividing us----deep disagreement about the traditional norms of family and personal identity, and media who have discovered they can enhance their market shares by promoting even further polarization in these and other current clashes of opinion and value----there are some things we can do as individuals, that might pull us back a bit from intense and growing threat of fanaticism in our discourse about public issues. 

We might all try to diversify the sources of news, information and commentary we use, by patronizing a variety of publications and outlets, rather than entirely those that seem to confirm us in our already existing points of view and commitments. And in conversation we can adopt a fairly simple technique of listening and attempting to imagine ourselves having the point of view of our friend, family member or acquaintance that we may find less than congenial. 

One specific technique may help considerably, and that is the technique of summarizing what the other member of the conversation, dialogue, debate or argument has just said, doing so throughout the conversation, keeping in mind that in doing this kind of re-stating, the important thing is to reflect what he or she has thought, felt and expressed to the extent possible, and to do so by putting one's self, insofar and possible, in his or her place.

Richard Upchurch is a wise old man who lives in Nashville.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

No comments:

Post a Comment