Diplomatic Disagreeing without fueling Divisiveness – A suggested script for Inauguration day exchanges
Today in the United States, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President. (I can’t believe I just wrote that.) This U.S. election season has been polarizing for her people, and not just along political or ideological lines, but in the ways we’ve seen citizens pit against each other, even to the extent of violence. According to new Pew Research Polls, the country is at a record high perception of division – 77% of those polled think the country is divided.
Political or popular figures should not exercise their power or influence to cause such deep divisions between any group of American or global citizens! We must strip our political figures of this power. They divide us by encouraging us to hate and fight against each other, and to engage in a civil war of words and tweets, countryperson against countryperson.
If we deny them the power to divide us, then we must simultaneously claim our own power to unite US.
Can you relate to any of these statements?
“I’m worried about losing my job.”
“I’m worried about my kids’ education.”
“I’m worried about losing my health care coverage.”
“I’m worried about my retirement and pension.”
“I’m worried about losing the freedom to buy what I want to buy with my own money.”
“I’m worried about losing my constitutional rights.”
“I’m worried about government overreach.”
“I’m worried about being able to express my religion freely in public.”
“I’m worried about being a target for violence or cruelty because of my race, gender, religion, or sexual identity.”
If there’s anything that unites us, it’s that we all have these feelings and worries about ourselves, our families and communities, and the nation at large.
We’ll always find folks to disagree with over “the direction the country is going,” the political figures we vote for, their positions, policies and so forth. If we put those varied opinions aside, we can start to recognize the real pain, real sadness, real anger, real fear, and uncertainty that so many are facing.
Almost everywhere I turn, especially on social media, I see friends expressing their real concerns and grievances. A young mother with a new baby working part time to support her unemployed full-time student husband in school, afraid of losing their health coverage if the ACA is gutted or repealed. A woman of color fearing for her safety, and the safety of her children at the hands of police and not knowing who to trust. A parent of a disabled child who worries that their public school will not be able to provide valuable and necessary treatment and provisions.
It’s time to lead with empathy. Since politicians (and sometimes their constituents) seem to take more pride in forcing their own way than in compromising with others, the cherished abilities like listening or understanding another’s perspective are not modeled at the highest levels of government. Our political leaders are not going to heal our nations unless we lead by example and demand it of them. We must model empathy from the grassroots in ways they can see.
It starts with creating connection. There is more that unites us than divides us. It’s not about being wrong or right. It’s not about winners vs. “haters and losers.” It’s about connection, and eliminating the language patterns that drive our disconnection.
Remember Brené Brown’s steps to showing empathy?
- Perspective taking
- Staying out of judgment
- Feeling with other people
- Communicating it (the above 3 steps)
Here’s an example:
“I can see that you’re feeling upset about the education options you have for your child. It must really worry you when their academic needs aren’t being met because it will affect so many parts of their future! I feel worried about my child’s schooling as well because I want them to be successful, just like you do. Even with a voucher, private school isn’t an option for our family so I’m really hoping to see my local public school be as excellent as it can be. It looks like you and I don’t agree on how to go about securing the best educations for our kids, and that’s okay. What’s more important is that we both want to do everything we can to help provide excellent education to our own kids and the kids in our community.
When, how, and to whom should we show empathy?
- Show empathy to others, especially to those with whom you disagree. Take their perspective. Try to see their concern from their eyes. You don’t have to back down or change your own opinions, but do try and relate to their viewpoint. It’s okay to let the conversation end without a “winner.”
- Respond to rudeness with empathy. Rude and unkind comments start to fly right and left anytime someone leads out with a controversial opinion. When the rudeness accelerates on both sides, it further drives the disconnect, polarizing people and their friendships. Be the first person to shift the self-centered rhetoric toward understanding and connection, especially between mutual friends.
- Ask for empathy for yourself and others. When your own efforts to share feelings and opinions are received with hostility, asking outright for another’s understanding can help shift the dialogue toward mutual respect, if not agreement.
Here are some empathic statements that might be helpful today:
“Thanks for remaining so positive. I’m glad you took the time to talk to me today. Your friendship means a lot to me. If I were in your position, I would feel the same way you do. That would frustrate me, too. I would be asking those same questions. What would be the best-case scenario for you? It’s okay that we feel differently. We have the same core intention and hope! Keeping our friendship intact is more important than agreeing on this issue. Am I understanding you correctly?”
Today let’s nurture our relationships by showing an extra measure of understanding and love to each other first and hope our elected leaders start to follow suit.