In the heat of the presidential impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate that is occurring as I write this, we are reminded of how deeply politically divided our nation is. Since the first of January, I’ve had so many speaking requests for “how to manage political conflicts” it’s hard to keep up. Most of us want to know how we can survive 2020, in our relationships, personal stress levels, and as a nation.
First, we need to admit it’s our fault. We let it happen. But we can change it. Statistically, political divisiveness in our country has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. There are many reasons for that systemically — gerrymandering has created more partisan districts, which triggers primary elections. So in those, whoever can prove to be the most left or right, gets elected. When they get to the Capitol, they’re on those far ends of the political spectrum and can headlock. Thanks to Citizens United, add all the secret “dark money” ads that are rude, negative, and often factually false.
And now, we’re stuck in our personal algorithms on social media and are limited to our own bubbles of like-minded news feeds and friends’ posts so we’re only seeing what we want to see and we don’t get to hear other points of view for any balance.
So what are we doing? Some of us are glued to the impeachment proceedings, political commentary from our favorite news source, and then do our best to persuade all those around us of the way as we see it. Others might gingerly talk about politics (if we have to) just to be civil with our friends and family or to look like we know what’s going on in the news. Then the rest of us are doing everything we can to avoid having those conversations at all. We end up getting into conflict with family members or lifelong friends and now many of us have ended friendships, cut off family members, or just retreat in isolation.
Some statistics show that one in 10 divorces since 2016 list political differences contributed to the split. Other data show that now almost 50% of parents don’t want their children marrying into the “other” political party.
What good is any of this for us as a family, community, or country? In another election year, how do we talk politics without yelling, seething, or silencing each other or ourselves? In conversation, how do we ethically maintain relationships while keeping integrity with our own values? How do we get to empathy and understanding to transform our minds, relationships, and nation?
Before you get even more depressed, there is some good news. There are conflict management techniques that can help. That’s next month’s column. But if you can’t wait till then, you’re welcome to catch one of our Inside Civics events for tips. In the meantime, the biggest hint is to stay curious with others and keep an open mind. We’ll see if they can do that in Congress. Or maybe we’ll have to show them how.
Formerly a Colorado state senator, now a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell, of Littleton, is a writer, speaker, filmmaker, and facilitator. She may be reached at email@example.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.
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