talk
One of the primary reasons talking politics with someone who has differing views is so challenging is we assume talking politics should be as easy as making sure they have all the facts we have. So we share our facts. But when our facts don’t change their mind, we’re likely to walk away complaining that “they just won’t listen!” or “they’re duped by the fake news they watch.”

Why Talking Politics is So Difficult

One of the primary reasons talking politics with someone who has differing views is so challenging is we assume talking politics should be as easy as making sure they have all the facts we have. So we share our facts. But when our facts don’t change their mind, we’re likely to walk away complaining that “they just won’t listen!” or “they’re duped by the fake news they watch.”

There are other possibilities, though. Here are four factors that might explain why our facts are so often not enough to change another person’s mind.

Factor 1: The survival instinct that kept humans alive back in caveman days is still alive and kicking in humans today. Information — everything we see, hear, experience — is first assessed by the limbic system to see if it presents a threat. If so, instinct kicks in to get us to act first and worry about whether the threat was real later. Fight or flight, as this is sometimes called, applies to any threat, whether it be to our physical selves, our emotional selves, or our ideas. (If you didn’t already see the great cartoon from theoatmeal.com that we posted on a previous blog, check it out. It really does an excellent job of explaining how this plays out in our lives.)

Factor 2: While we all have the same basic brain structure (limbic, cortex, neocortex) no two brains are configured the same. Nature has provided lots of design options, some predefined by our genetic code, some switched on or off based on life experiences. As a result, we are all working with slightly different operating systems (sort of like my brain as a PC and your brain as a MAC).

Our Different Experiences Lead to Different Conclusions
Factor 3: Most of us consider personal experience to be among the most reliable sources of information available. Yet, even when two people are present at the same event, their experiences of that event are different. These differences can be vast when the two do not share the same culture, backgrounds, or opportunities, all of which color our individual views.

Factor 4: When it comes to knowing the difference between right and wrong, we humans all tend to evaluate using the same basic ingredients:

–Will the action hurt another?

–Is it fair?

–Will it result in my being disloyal to my own kind?

But we don’t all agree on which of these ingredients are most important.

How We Can Have Different Views of Morality

So, what do these factors have to do with why talking politics is so challenging these days? They tell us the current situation is a direct result of human nature. It is, in fact, a simple case of people acting like people. How could we all see things the same way when we’re wired differently, assess morality using different mixes of the basic moral ingredients, and draw from vastly different personal experiences! These factors even explain how two sane, educated people might make opposite choices when asked to complete the following sentence:

 

<Obama/Trump> deserves to be tried and convicted for what he <did/is doing> to our country.”

 

ALL IS NOT LOST

This might make it sound as though we’re doomed to go on arguing and name calling until we start another Civil War. However, now that we’re looking at talking politics from this new angle and see the current oppositional style is very likely not a failing on the part of the person we’re talking to, we can use move past it.

Ready to change your assumptions?

In case you missed it, check our previous post, We Are Crossing Party Lines.


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    The Two Types of Depolarization

    Depolarization — the work of reducing toxic polarization — is best understood in terms of the two types of polarization that shape our interactions and perceptions in today’s politically charged climate:

    1. Affective Polarization

    Affective polarization revolves around emotions and feelings. It refers to the emotional divide between individuals or groups with differing political views. It’s about how people feel about others who hold opposing ideologies.

    • Us vs. Them: In affective polarization, people tend to see those on the other side of the political spectrum as part of an “us vs. them” mentality. Emotions like anger, fear, and distrust often come into play.
    • Emotional Reactions: When encountering someone with opposing views, affectively polarized individuals may experience heightened emotions. They might feel threatened, defensive, or even hostile.
    • Echo Chambers: Social media and personalized news feeds can exacerbate affective polarization by reinforcing existing beliefs and isolating individuals from diverse perspectives.

    2. Cognitive Polarization

    Cognitive polarization focuses on thought processes and cognitive biases. It pertains to how people think about the views of others.

    • Discounting Opposing Views: Cognitive polarization leads to a tendency to discount opposing viewpoints without critically evaluating them. People may jump to conclusions, assuming that differing opinions lack validity or logical soundness.
    • Us vs. Them (Again): Just as in affective polarization, cognitive polarization reinforces the “us vs. them” mindset. It hinders open-mindedness and intellectual curiosity.
    • Intellectual Echo Chambers: Cognitive polarization occurs when people surround themselves with like-minded sources, reinforcing their preconceptions and avoiding exposure to alternative perspectives.

    The Interplay Between Affective and Cognitive Polarization

    Affective and cognitive polarization often feed into each other. Emotional reactions (affective) influence how we process information (cognitive), and vice versa.

    Breaking the Cycle: CPL recognizes that depolarization  requires us to address both affective and cognitive aspects. Encouraging empathy and  active listening is not enough.  We must also teach critical thinking and intellectual humility if we are to truly bridge the gap.

    About Bridging

    Bridging refers to the intentional effort to reduce toxic polarization by fostering understanding, empathy, and communication between individuals or groups with differing political views. It aims to build connections and discover our shared humanity, ultimately bridging the gaps that divides people along ideological lines.