Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Agreeing To Disagree, Steps to Solve Political Polarization

Disagreement is one of the most important principles of a democracy. If everyone always agreed on the issues then we would never get a thoughtful thorough discussion on what might be the best course of action. In fact it is in our human nature to question our world and rules that we live by, some people do this more than others, but this is one of the psychological differences that separate us from other mammals. These questions have led us from believing the earth is flat, to landing on the moon, and maybe Mars someday. However, sometimes this curiosity can develop into two or more polarized differing points of view. These views can be directly opposite and so engrained in one’s mind and heart so that they choose to see the world through that perspective, and thus a belief is formed.
A belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true. So for instance on a topic that tends to divide people like abortion, there are people that believe that abortion is a mothers right, and others that believe that it is wrong. While the question of abortion will maybe never have a concrete answer, each side believes their stance is the correct one, and the other stance is incorrect or false. The question differs from a question like “the snow is cold?” because everyone can agree that snow is cold. What is important for you to understand when reading this book is that to the pro-choice person, abortion is right, and to them that is just as certain as the question of whether or not snow is cold.
Many people have trouble empathizing with the alternate point of view; this is because it invariably results in us believing that snow is warm. However sometimes if you can just for a moment, assume the beliefs of others, doing this will allow you to have a reasonable discussion with someone about a topic you may absolutely disagree on. While you may not end up believing that snow is warm when you finish the conversation, you might learn something about why they believe the way they do, and even about why you believe the way you do.
Recently I had a disagreement with a friend of mine about a verdict in a court case. Because of the nature of our judicial system the result we were disagreeing about could neither be proven right or wrong, but we each believed the opposite of each other. Our discussion started off calm and intellectual, and quickly escalated to distain for one another’s point of view. Neither of us would ever be able to prove the other person wrong and neither of us would ever change our mind. We each believed our side to be true and correct, and nothing was going to change that.
Later that week, we came to discussing the case again. However this time we both approached the subject much more carefully. We started off by asking each other what we could agree on, and it turned out we agreed on more that we thought. Discussing the points of the case we felt the same about, we were able to gain an understanding of why the other person came to the judgment they did, and we concluded that each other’s judgment was in fact justified.
Unfortunately many issues that dominate today’s culture and politics have become incredibly polarizing issues in America. Some of those issues include abortion, immigration, taxes, torture, gun control and healthcare. These are all topics that involve people on both sides having strong conviction in their beliefs of what is right and wrong. TV commercials, newspaper ads, and stump speeches are not going to change people’s minds. In fact this book is not intended to change minds. However, for us to solve the tough problems that our country faces we must in some cases agree to disagree.
If you can agree with someone that you will never agree, then and only then, can you approach the subject with enough respect and caution to have a conversation about the topic. By doing this you can begin to bridge the gap by finding the places that you share common ground. Imagine a priest and an atheist sits down together to talk. They obviously believe in polar opposites, the priest believes in a higher power and the atheist believes that there is none. If they try to discuss the existence or non-existence of god, they would get no ware. Imagine however the priest says to the atheist “I cannot prove the existence of my God, however you must admit that some things cannot be explained by science as well”. Now the atheist and the priest can both agree on two things, the origin of our universe cannot be explained and the priest cannot show proof of his God’s existence. Who would have thought a priest and an atheist sitting down and agreeing on something?
The above example is just a small narrative and isn’t the end-all be-all of creating a healthy discussion. It is just a way to set up a foundation to bridge the communication gap between two opposite points of view. From this point, parties would need to be willing to delve into a discussion with one another, they would need to be respectful, and they would need to be comfortable that they are not stepping on the other parties values. From this point the priest and the atheist could go on to talk about how they feel the earth was formed, or go on to talk about why they have the beliefs they do.
Tomorrow I will discuss how this relates more into politics and our congress being so divided.