“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,
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.
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.
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.