Mending our social fabric. What is that supposed to mean? Since 1994, according to Pew Research Center, American politics have been on a progression of increased polarization. It seems like there are really only two camps for which you can politically belong to in America, the left or the right. The right, or the Republican party, is the enemy to the left and the left, the Democratic Party, is an enemy to the right. The left says that the right needs to be voted out of office for anything to get better, while the right is sitting in their camp saying the exact same things about the left. But before I get any further, what do I mean by polarization?
"Polarization" is one word to describe how certain behaviors and actions - intended and unintended - drive people with different political opinions further and further apart. I am a recent graduate of the Intercultural Peacebuilding program at BYUH and have been using my skills and knowledge from the program tirelessly in my participation with the Common’s Project. The Common’s Project by “How to Build Up” has a mission of transforming political polarization over social media, namely Twitter and Facebook, and starting dialogue with Americans across the political spectrum for more constructive conversation. Through our efforts, with the use of tech and real life facilitators, we are engaging Americans in depolarization across the net!
I’d like to pose the question; if you’re involved in American politics, what do your political conversations look like? My studies at the David O. McKay Center certainly contributed to how I viewed conflict in my own life… but I didn’t often apply it to my political conversations. As an evolved liberal coming from a white, conservative family and background, it is safe to say the conversations about politics when I went home for breaks from school never went well. During family dinners, the topics on President Trump were avoided, or “tip-toed” around replaced with shallow discussion, while we sat and ate pot roast over underlying tension. When engaging in political discussion… or, err, arguments, with my family, about the current administration they’d cite information from right wing news sources while I was defending my information from left wing biased sources. I know you may be thinking that political arguments really should be no big deal, and maybe you’re asking yourself why we couldn’t just settle with our different perspectives and call it good? Or maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, that’s me! But how do I help it?”
Politics are a tricky thing, and our views are influenced heavily by our values, past experiences, culture, needs, our worldview, hellooo Chad Ford’s Photorealistic Iceberg™! We each have our own icebergs laced with deep personal convictions, hence the multiple possibilities in ways that politics can be viewed. Think about your own political views, and why you have the views you do! Do they come from the place you were raised, your own personal values, the socio-economic circumstances you were raised in, certain past experiences, or maybe you’ve inherited your views from your parents? Working with the Commons Project and jumping into conversations online with people from all across the political spectrum has taught me how important it is to ask others why they believe what they believe, or why they hold a view that they have. It is easy to make assumptions about others based on what we’ve learned from our own tribalism. But this is only what keeps us polarized, separated, and unwilling to mend or build that bridge across the divides. We must ask ourselves the question of “How long can this go on for?” and if it does continuously get worse… what is in store for us down the road? Moving down the iceberg, learning about others beneath their positions, proves invaluable. While not always being perfect at this, I have found myself in constructive dialogue with those who share completely opposite positions in politics from me. When delving deep beneath the surfaces I have found that often times these individuals are not that different from me in general hopes, desires or even fears.
While I have found that this doesn’t solve all of the conflicts in politics, oppression in the world because of politics, or other social issues stemming from politics, it is certainly a good ground to start at. If we choose to see past the tribalism, past the assumptions we have been told about ‘the other side’ or our own beliefs that we have constructed, we begin to mend our social fabric. We begin to be the small drops in the bucket that lead to large transformations in our cultures, and healing in the ways that we interact with each other. The beauty of this is that while this is a big slow moving process ultimately, we can be a small piece in the larger puzzle by choosing to have better conversations, by choosing to ask why, and by being alive to other’s experiences and perspectives in our own lives.
If you’re interested in the work that the Common’s Project is doing, jump on to Facebook and follow us at The Common’s Project, or join our constructive conversations with other fellow Americans at The Common’s for Conversation. We are also on Twitter at @commons_project and #commonsusa. We’d love to have you around; your voice and perspective are needed!