In my last article, I stated that I believed we were in an epidemic of polarization—economic, political, personal and spiritual. Here are seven keys which I believe if they are practiced by a substantial number of us will assist in our moving through this current challenge.
Key Number One: recognize the importance of healing our divisiveness.
Any progress here depends upon our intention. We have to recognize that the current state of polarization is actually a problem and want to resolve it. If you don’t think it’s an issue, I’m surprised you are still reading this article. We have to hold in our minds the desire that we honor each other even if we don’t agree on a particular issue.
Key Number Two: interact with others who are different from you.
There is a growing tendency in our country to isolate ourselves such that we only interact with people who are “like us”. We move into neighborhoods with like-minded people. We watch news channels which slant their coverage towards our beliefs. We visit websites written and visited by those who hold the same viewpoints. Our feedback loop is such that we think most people think like we do. We put ourselves in a bubble. When we accidentally bump into someone who’s different, we tend to isolate them and demonize them. We need to get out of our bubbles and interact with people with the diversity of viewpoints.
Key Number Three: pause, don’t react when you hear a different belief or opinion.
We cherish our beliefs, clinging to them so deeply that when we hear something that challenges them, emotions immediately arise. We seek to state our opinion and prove the other person “wrong”. The fast pace of modern life has sped up this knee-jerk reaction to disagree. When you feel the immediate desire to disagree with someone else, stop for a moment – pause – count to 10 – do whatever it takes to not “react”. I like how Stephen Covey put this many years ago – he suggested that whenever we recognize we immediately react to a particular stimulus that we build in a time gap between the stimulus and our response. The longer we can make the gap of time, the greater the chance our response will be proactive rather than reactive. We have to give ourselves the opportunity to consciously choose our reply.
Key Number Four: seek to understand the other’s perspective.
Sure, you may disagree with what they are saying. They probably disagree with your opinion. However, wouldn’t you like it if they listened to you and sought to understand your position and why you believe as you do? Well, they probably would like you to listen to them and understand why they believe what they do! Again, from Covey, “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. The wisest person is the one who can take the perspective of the other person. I know that this is sometimes challenging. It helps me to think in those moments that “if I had lived the life of this person with whom I disagree, I would probably believe just as they do”. Even if the other person doesn’t take the time to really hear you, you should take the time to really hear them. One of you has to stop the pattern of “violent non-listening” to begin the healing process.
Key Number Five: honor your own beliefs.
After you have paused and really taken the time to understand the other person’s viewpoint – even mirroring back to them what you’ve heard, it’s important for you to be true to what you believe. Not offering your alternative way of looking at the issue will only serve to frustrate you. In stating what you believe, don’t make it about “winning” an argument. Rather, use words that indicate that you look at the issue differently – and then state your opinion, if appropriate. If you don’t honor your beliefs somehow in this circumstance, you may feel resentment which can preclude healing the divisiveness.
Key Number Six: seek the “bigger picture”.
What does this mean? It means that somewhere beyond the differences of opinion which may appear to be polar opposites, there is another way of looking at the issue. Is there any way to find common ground between the two viewpoints? Is there any way to view the advantages to humanity by way of our having a diversity of opinions? Is there some possible option that bridges the differences in a new and unique creative way? Can we step back from the minutia of our opinion and view our differences from some “higher level” which serves everyone?
Key Number Seven: value the relationship more than the belief.
Even if you cannot find the bigger picture – you can always “agree to disagree”. One of you (and preferably both of you) needs to release the belief that your disagreement needs to result in one of you winning and the other losing. To the degree that you can see such differences of opinion as not like battles to be won or lost but rather simply two people with two different life experiences holding two different beliefs, then you are on the road to healing divisiveness. Somehow, when we’re in these moments of emotional disagreement we must recognize that our relationship – our sense of care and concern for this other human being in front of us – is more important than our cherished belief. No belief, no opinion is more important than the power of love.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!