Resist the assumption
Updated: Jun 7
There is no doubt that America is steeped in a culture war that has been fueled by political tribalism.
“According to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, 38 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Republicans said they would feel somewhat or very upset at the prospect of their child marrying someone from the opposite party.”
When I try to understand how we got here, it seems like people were handed different kaleidoscopes through which they now see the world. And that, unfortunately, has many of us dug into our views.
We look at our neighbors as being either for us or against us, all while applying litmus tests whose rigor would make the SAT blush.
The ISMS aren’t only about racism or sexism, they’re about all kinds of prejudices we hold about people.
Do they use personal pronouns or not?
Do they view government as overreaching or not?
Do they worship as we do, or not?
There is a lot of nuance that even the most aware among us are missing because of our own polarized world views.
What if we tried a different approach?
One that resisted making assumptions about people.
One that involved treating people kindly, listening with intent, and seeking common ground?
For instance, why can’t we pass federal laws regulating guns when the vast majority of us agree on solutions?
According to a May 2021 Pew poll, 70% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats believe that background checks should be required for private gun sales and gun-show sales. In addition, “Majorities in both parties also oppose allowing people to carry concealed firearms without a permit.”
Yet we don’t act because it’s easier to point fingers than to face the fact that we’ve had more than one mass shooting per day in this country since the start of 2021.
A big part of the problem is that we’ve forgotten how to talk to one another!
The Einhorn Collaborative is laser focused on addressing this issue. Their goal is “to help Americans build stronger relationships, embrace our differences, and rediscover our shared humanity — so we can solve our most urgent challenges together.”
Not only have they piloted their own programs to promote interconnectedness, they’ve worked with others to form a group called the “New Pluralists” that is dedicated to building the capacity of people and organizations to engage in productive conversation.
One of the most powerful examples I know of people trying to bridge the gap in understanding, came from a show I heard on NPR. It illustrated in real time, how to approach people who have wildly differing views (in this case Q-anon!) to find common ground. You can listen to it here.
Regardless of whether we’re starting small, or attempting to communicate across wide chasms, we need to try to build kindness, careful listening skills, and empathy into our daily practice of living.
If we want to live a life that’s less stressful, more interesting, and more open to new ideas we need to begin by having meaningful conversations with people who are different from us.
That includes people who are differently abled, who wear different kind of clothing than we do (whether its piercing or a military uniform) and who are different ages than we are.
While we’re emerging from Covid, let’s try throwing away our assumptions about people. Let’s embrace the possibilities of goodness that we might find in each other.
As my mother used to say, “When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”
Pat Libby is a nonprofit consultant and author of The Lobbying Strategy Handbook: 10 Steps to Advancing Any Cause Effectively, Oxford University Press. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.
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