Why Bother Talking to The Other Side?

Why bother?  Why cross party lines or bridge the political divide? We already know what the other side has to say (Our media tells us!) and it’s not easy or comfortable.  In fact, it’s frightening.

Most objections I hear to attending events at Crossing Party Lines are versions of those arguments. The truth is, conversations with someone whose views are different from our own don’t have to be difficult or uncomfortable, and while we may know what the other party stands for, we don’t know what any one individual stands for or why. As for “Why bother?” bridging political differences benefits us in many ways, from personal to intellectual to political.

In this first in a 3-part series, we’ll be looking at the political benefits, all of which stem from having Viewpoint Diversity.

Viewpoint Diversity refers to looking at problems from multiple angles. In the political world, it translates into examining an issue from a variety of perspectives in order to deepen our understanding of it. If you think about it, looking at problems from multiple angles is not a novel concept. One example is a movie set. The director uses many cameras to capture a scene from a range of angles, because it allows him to splice together the set of views that is most effective for telling the story.

What viewpoint diversity isn’t is hearing someone else’s opinion or position on an issue, then assuming we are seeing the issue through their eyes.  Behind every opinion or position there is a lifetime of knowledge and experience. Because of this, no one, whether they are a journalist, a politician, or an average person, can adequately represent another person’s views or perspective. They haven’t lived it.  Viewing an issue from multiple perspectives requires giving people with those perspectives a “seat at the table.”

Talking with someone whose political views differ from our own is the only way to achieve viewpoint diversity. When we hear other views and take the time to dig into them, learning why they make sense for the person holding those views, we come to understand what problem they are solving, what concerns they have, who they see as being impacted by the issue or the solution and in what way. 

A Message

One benefit is that it sends a message to our politicians, many of whom have either forgotten or never learned that it is their job to represent all their constituents, not just those that voted for them. The momentum we as a movement – the Bridging Movement – are gaining shows our politicians by example what it is that we want for our country.

A More Nuanced Understanding

Another political benefit arising from bridging the political divide is that we come to understand how complex the issues facing us today are. Seeing complex issues as simple leads us to accept simple solutions that can’t solve the problems because the problem was never understood in the first place.    

Third-Way Solutions

Yet another benefit is learning that in many cases the differences in solutions (whether it be who to elect or what bills or laws to pass) may not be reflective of different approaches to solving a problem. It often reflects the fact that the different sides are seeing and attempting to address different problems. This realization opens the door to working together to come up with either third-way solutions or multiple solutions that fully address an issue.

 A Stronger Democracy

The final political benefit I would like to address here (though certainly not the only remaining benefit) is that it makes America strong.  The framers of our Constitution did not produce what some people call “the greatest document ever written” out of consensus.  These men argued incessantly and disagreed vehemently about the best way to forge their new country.  They didn’t put aside their differences to write the Founding Documents.  Rather, they sat at the same table, listened to one another’s philosophies and concerns, and figured out how to connect their varied wisdom in a way that served and protected our budding country from all the ills they could collectively imagine.

In this 21st century we are not re-writing the Constitution. We are, however, steering the ship that is America.  The better we voters understand one another’s needs and concerns, the more likely we are to use the power of our votes keep us on course.

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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.