Prescription for Contentious Times

Posted: November 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

One of the shocking observations by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion is how the present polarization between different tribes has turned from disagreement into raw contempt. Disagreement and difference of opinion are always to be expected in societies large and small. But that disagreement and polarization has turned toxic; people have come to not only desire to debate opponents but instead to destroy them. This is reflected in our choice of language. And civility is always shaped by choice of language which is intertwined with attitudes, emotions and ideas.

Most of us have felt this growing tide of antagonism and opposition in our daily life, not only in national political discourse but in the kinds of transactions we experience in ordinary experience. A spirit of rancor has floated to the surface. The reptilian brain has reemerged. Some of us fuel the flames while others are just troubled and baffled by it, not knowing how to move forward differently.

Just recently good friend Heather Hargrove was sharing a heart-to-heart discussion about this troubling development with some of her friends and colleagues. They all were experiencing the same tension. And though they couldn’t pretend to solve the problem with a simple formula they did agree that the answer has something to do with the restoration of certain virtues that we are willing to practice and model. What they came up with was a cluster of four guiding principles that if followed and shared could make a difference:

Challenge everyone with these four words:  compassion, empathy, respect, and honesty.
Compassion and empathy – for you never know what your friend (or enemy) is going through and what battles they are fighting.
Respect for others, period.  Whether it be a difference of opinion or belief or a way of life…whatever it is, be respectful.
And most important, honesty.  No one gains in a relationship or organization without honesty as the foundation.
It can be rather easy to make assumptions and pass judgment.  So the challenge is: How will you find ways to employ compassion, empathy, respect, and honesty each and every day?

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