Moonbeams #2: Flashes of Hope, Inspiration, Humor, and Wisdom For All of Us

“There’s no evidence from decades of Pew Research surveys that public opinion, in the aggregate, is more extreme now than in the past. But what has changed — and pretty dramatically — is the growing tendency of people to sort themselves into political parties based on their ideological differences.”
Pew Research Center, The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown

Have you tried and failed to connect with your political counterparts?  How do you persuade someone that your political views are valid?  How do you get them to understand your position?

In an illuminating TED Talk, Robb Willer, professor of sociology, psychology and organizational behavior at Stanford University, outlines a method to cross the political divide.

Trust, Mistrust. Grand Rapids Art Museum. Shot with a Canon 40D.

Trust, Mistrust. Grand Rapids Art Museum. Shot with a Canon 40D.

1.  Approach your political counterpart with empathy and respect.

This sounds obvious.  And it is indeed obvious, but often overlooked.

2.  Recognize that beneath the political divide there is a moral divide. 

Willer cites studies that show liberals and conservatives often hold different moral values in high regard.  For liberals, equality and fairness, as well as the care and protection of rights, are consistently ranked high on their values scale.  Conservatives, on the other hand, place greater emphasis on loyalty, patriotism, security, and respect for authority.

3.  Use a moral re-framing method to connect a political message with an underlying moral value.

Willer has conducted several research studies about how to shift political opinions.  He has shown that a successful method is to link a political position with a moral value.  For example, when talking to conservatives about the need for national health insurance, more people were convinced of the validity of this position when it was linked to a value like purity or security.  In contrast, liberals were more likely to swayed in an argument about military spending, for example, if the argument appealed to the value of equality or fairness.

Why bother trying to persuade others?  The anger and contempt towards the “other side” are ugly and destructive.  Right now, we are feeling the impact of a divided country, a divided people.  Willer ends his talk with an impassioned appeal that moved me deeply:

Let’s put this country back together.  Let’s do it despite the politicians and the media and Facebook and Twitter and Congressional redistricting and all of it–all the things that divide us.  Let’s do it because it’s right.  And let’s do it because this hate and contempt that flows through us every day makes us ugly and it corrupts us and it threatens the very fabric of our society.  We owe it to one another and our country to reach out and try to connect. We can’t afford to hate them any longer–and we can’t afford to let them hate us either.  Empathy and respect.  Empathy and respect.  If you think about it, it’s the very least that we owe our fellow citizens.

In Harmony. Art Institute of Chicago. Shot with a Canon 40D.

In Harmony. Art Institute of Chicago. Shot with a Canon 40D.

Willer, who has worked as a dishwasher, construction worker, mover, line cook, and union organizer, is a professor at Stanford University.  He has won numerous awards for his teaching and research.  His writing has been published in the New York Times and the Washington Post.  His op-eds include “The Secret to Political Persuasion” and “Is the Environment a Moral Cause?”

How have your conversations gone with others who don’t share the same political views?  What has and hasn’t “worked” for you?  From my own experience, I’d say that “respect and empathy” are the first step.  I’m fumbling through the next one!

I hope that for all of us this is a week of building bridges, instead of tearing them down.

This is the second Moonbeam, a series open to everyone who wants to penetrate the murkiness of divisive rhetoric and fear-mongering that defines our age..  My hope is that together we can create a virtual space that will startle us with its beauty, hope, and vision of what is possible.  To read other Moonbeams click on the embedded link.

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16 replies »

  1. Lovely writing and message, I have a question brewing in my head though, Please do not take this the wrong way but do you think as the world has become smaller through social media and the cultures have adapted to the change that the religion in the world has yet to adapt with the humanity? Which can impact the governments in power too?
    Sorry for all the questions but when I read I questions other aspects too.
    Keep smiling.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, 3rd of the 3rd. Welcome to my blog! Thanks for your thoughts and kind words. You raise an interesting question–of how fast cultures, religions, societies, governments are changing. I think you are right–that different groups are adapting to change at different rates. I also think these same groups have different world-views. How we all respond to change is a part of our personalities too. Some of us adjust faster or slower than others. But change is inevitable!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This election, with all the antecedent evidence of growing divisions (almost like the parting of the dead sea!), we soberly contemplate on how we can make sense of it all and what we should do. First, we recognize we probably live in a bubble — our bubble. We talk to people who think like us, listen/watch/read to news media that have similar positions as us. We don’t like the opposing side. We are disdainful. We are biased.

    Then, we realize, they are human beings too. They did not get there overnight.

    And so, perhaps, the first thing we can do is to listen. Listen. And listen. We will not justify twisted logic, the abuse of the past, nor the insistence of bringing things back to the way it was. That’s long gone. We can, however, help navigate through all the scientific, technologic, medical, societal, cultural evolutionary events that have transformed our world to where it is now, and where it is headed.

    Liked by 1 person

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