The old saying that you should never talk about politics or religion at the dinner table has taken on a whole new meaning these days.
Twitter feeds packed with unsubstantiated jibberish; family members severing ties over Facebook comments that devolved into an online fistfight; the rush to condemn all media as fake news while the actual fake news sites spread propaganda, vitriol, and stir up hate—The dinner table is now global, much less communal, and way more explosive.
Civil discourse has become a matter of “us” vs. “others” with each group laying down specific definitions for who is allowed into the fold based on their approval of the rightness of another person’s ideas.
And why wouldn’t we protect ourselves? The trolls, hate groups, angry feminists, radical fundamentalists, whatever label you might give a group on the other side of your political position on a given issue, might lay into you if you wade into the discussion on a given topic. Who wants to get yelled at? Who wants to feel stupid?
But, in the attempt to provide safe spaces and weed out those who inevitably put their proverbial fists up when someone offers up a position different than their own, we’ve lost something.
Collaboration isn’t about agreeing on the solution or even the problem, but rather agreeing that they can work together to move forward. – Adam Kahane
Adam Kahane, a global conflict resolution specialist who lives in Montreal, says that what we have lost is the ability to create a constructive dialogue between people with opposing viewpoints who need to work together in order for the fighting to stop and solutions to societies greatest ills to begin.
Turning People We Disagree With Into Enemies
One of the most significant trends as democracy continues to splinter is what Kahane calls “enemy-fying,” or shutting out people we disagree with from the groups with whom we are willing to work on issues.
The goal is to exclude or eliminate those people from the discussion and it happens with people at every point on the political spectrum as well as socially, academically and in family settings.
The “enemies that must be destroyed” theory, Kahane says, is more and more common. It also is counterproductive.
Of late, it is punctuated by a push toward anti-intellectual elitism in American culture —the dismissal of science, arts, religions, and humanities, and their replacement with self-righteousness, propaganda, and a distrust of democratic systems in place to protect Constitutional freedoms. The pushback is fury. The results, chaos.
Kahane says there are four choices when it comes to working with others: collaborate, adapt, force or exit.
Creating Dialogue When We Are Only Listening to Ourselves
Theoretical physicist David Bohm’s theories on human thought and creating dialogue begin with the concept of suspending judgment and initial comment in order to remain open to a wide range of perspectives and ideas.
Listening with intention is the foundation, he wrote, and with regular application groups and individuals can diminish and even dissolve the isolation and fragmentation that creates division.
Suppose we were able to share meanings freely without a compulsive urge to impose our view or conform to those of others and without distortion and self-deception. Would this not constitute a real revolution in culture?
― David Bohm
The 2015 essay by Maria Popova- Legendary Physicist David Bohm on the Paradox of Communication, the Crucial Difference Between Discussion and Dialogue, and What Is Keeping Us from Listening to One Another – demonstrates the fundamental values within Bohm’s Dialogue.
Intention, listening, self-examination, opening to new ideas, cultural conditioning, and purpose all come into play.
Bohm believed that collaborating was a necessity for society to function properly. Kahane says collaboration is important, but not always the best choice.
In an interview with Track Changes / Changer de Voix’s Dan Monafu and Susan Johnston, he stated, “You can force things; you can say “well I know what needs to be done and I’m going to make them the way I want them to be”, which maybe people do much of the time, including government. That I have the authority, I have the knowledge, I have the capacity to make it like this.
You can adapt, which is saying “Look, I can’t change the situation so I just have to get along as best I can” which is what most of us do about most things. You can…in extreme cases you can exit, you can say “look this isn’t working for me, I’m just getting out” whether it’s getting out of the job or the project or the country or the marriage.
Or you collaborate, which is…has lots of potential and lots of challenges. So I don’t think it’s true that you always have to collaborate. On the contrary, I think what’s required is to be intentional about when to collaborate and with whom. And there are lots of reasons why collaboration is the interesting thing to do or a promising thing to do or a useful thing to do.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
Kahane has negotiated peace deals in 50 conflicts around the world. He recommends stretch collaboration, whether it’s disagreeing with relatives over politics or participating in creating solutions for global issues:
Embrace conflict and connection. It is necessary in the form of empathy. Too often our adversaries are dehumanized merely as mouthpieces for the opinion we disagree with.
Experiment a way forward so you can begin the conversation by discussing what you agree on. You can address disagreement later on.
Step into the game. Stop trying to change what other people are doing, and move toward entering fully into the action, willing to change ourselves.
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