Lately, we’ve gotten used to viewing each other in terms of ‘Rs’ and ‘Ds’ — Republican and Democrat. We’ve broken our friends, family and our colleagues down into who they supported in the election and what side of the issues they’re on. We’ve pressed the pause button when considering that behind every opinion is a person and behind every person is a story that is uniquely their own. I readily admit that I was one of those people too. It’s easy to walk away from conversations when you disagree with someone but it takes real strength to engage with people that share different opinions than you. When politics become personal, everyone benefits.
Our culture has taken politics and made it into reality tv. Even serious news channels now embrace the circus mentality, turning political discourse into the equivalent of modern day bear pits where the most outspoken panelists vie for a soundbite that will go viral. Many of us wonder, isn’t there a better way? Yes, there is. It starts with discovering the sameness in our differences.
Engage with people and communities that are different than your own
We don’t know what we don’t know. Many of us live in bubbles of our own creations. We’re isolated from opinions that are different than our own. We’re isolated from communities that are different than our own. And, we surround ourselves with voices that reinforce what we already believe. Our lives are becoming more like our online lives in that all of the information we consume, all of the opinions we hear, have been curated to fit what we already believe.
This might be the comfortable way to live but we’re doing ourselves and our communities a disservice. Innovation comes from groups that are comprised of people of different genders and from different backgrounds. Katherine W. Phillips, in a piece for Scientific American entitled, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, states that “…research shows that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups…. This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.”
The most innovative companies rely on teams build on the idea of diversity of thought. It’s time for political discussion to do the same.
Start a conversation. Make the first move. Talk to people who you know have opinions that are different than your own. Everyone has a story that is uniquely their own. And, many people are eager to tell you theirs, if you do the heavy lifting and ask. People are like puzzles. We’re all made of different pieces, made of different shapes that fit together in ways we sometimes don’t often expect.
We’re all guilty of making flash judgements about people with different views. However, asking questions of those you disagree with may lead you to discover more commonality that you thought. Maybe both of your grandparents had the same profession. Maybe your children both struggle in the same class. Maybe you’re both having the same issue in your relationship.
Industries that excel in customer service live by the motto the customer is always right. That doesn’t really mean that the customer is always right — no one is always right — contrary to what some will tell you. The key to this mentality isn’t literally that the customer is always right but that the customer needs to feel like they are right and the way to do this is to first listen to their grievances. Without interruption. And acknowledge the issue and point of conflict.
Only after we listen to the concerns of those who hold different opinions can we begin to move towards solutions that everyone will benefit from. Reversely, speaking while someone else listens is cathartic. Letting the words go can be a tremendous relief, the lifting of the weight of just not feeling like you’ve been heard is a touchstone to building bridges across communities.
Taking issues from vague, theoretical ideas to real-world problems that affect real people is the key to creating stronger communities and stronger people. Yes, it’s easy to get lost in the constant back and forth arguments of one side versus the other. And, remaining disconnected and removed from experiences that are different than our own is the easy. However, it’s when we make politics less about red and blue and more about the people they affect, that we really harness the power of political change. Not only that but you’ll be surprised at who you’ll meet and what you’ll learn about others and about yourself. And, you’ll be stronger for it.
Originally published at medium.com