This polarization is particularly easy to see in the arena of politics. Conservatives and progressives, right and left, Republican and Democrat, Socialist or Capitalist, labels come easy. With the labels come a whole host of other factors that follow our polarized mindset. Our opponents are deceived or misled at best, while we ourselves, and those who fall into a similar category, alone claim enlightened thinking and clarity of perception. Of course, the opposition sees the situation completely differently.
I don’t mind polarization, per se. I am glad when I see people becoming passionate about issues, about problems they see and actions that they believe contain solutions. Unfortunately, with the polarization often comes an unwillingness to listen, a complete lack of civility. We tend to behave as if our conviction of opinion allows no room for dialogue and discussion. As a result, labels give way to slurs, and slurs to mudslinging and mudslinging to even more destructive and disruptive behaviors.
As a man of Style and Substance, I have been working very hard to be different in the way that I approach the subject of beliefs and the polarization that can occur. I have found 5 practices that have helped to restore some measure of civility in the dialogue I have had with others. I offer them here for your consideration.
1. Never use a term you wouldn’t use to address your Grandmother. If you are like me, you revere your grandmothers. Even when they were difficult to talk to, maybe even difficult to understand, set in their ways and feisty when encouraged to consider a different point of view, you would still be gentle and respectful. No cross words, no name calling, and certainly no effort to degrade her. She was your Grandma, after all, and whether you win an argument or not, nothing would be worth hurting her. Consider that the next time you are tempted to hurl some pithy quote about someone’s mental stature or their level of intellectual strength.
2. Ask yourself, “Would I say this to a parent about their newborn baby?” Is your comment or criticism going to help bring more civility to the conversation? A sure way to tell is to replace the reference to the other individuals opinion or position with the phrase, “your baby.” Do you think that someone could hear you say what you are about to say about their child without being hurt or angry? Then you might be on the right track. If not, then perhaps rethinking the comment is in order.