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Bridging Differences for Your Mental Health

We have discovered that our work bringing Americans together for civil respectful conversations across differences provides many benefits in addition to reducing affective polarization. We have observed that the experiences we offer reduce fear and anxiety; That people leave our events feeling more hopeful and empowered and less isolated.

How Civil Conversations Impact Your Mental Health

In an era marked by heightened political polarization and social isolation,Crossing Party Lines is pioneering efforts to bridge divides and cultivate thriving communities. Beyond the realm of politics, our work has profound implications for our mental well-being, offering a powerful antidote to the isolation, anxiety, and fear that often arise from living in a world in which our views, our values and even our fears and concerns go unheard. Recent studies underscore the transformative impact of civil, respectful conversations on mental health, highlighting the crucial role community, understanding, and respect play in fostering a sense of connection and empowerment. In this post I’ll share five ways your involvement in Crossing Party Lines contributes improved mental health for you and for others.

The Social Cure: Community as a Buffer

Numerous studies emphasize the link between social connections and mental health. According to a report by the National Institute of Mental Health, individuals with strong social support are better equipped to cope with stress and experience lower rates of depression and anxiety. Our events that bring you together for moderated conversation, workshops, book clubs and more tap into the social cure, creating a supportive community where diverse perspectives are embraced.

The Power of Being Heard and Seen

Recent research in psychology has explored the therapeutic benefits of being heard and seen, particularly in the context of active listening. We recognize the importance of “listening politics,” teaching our attendees to listen with a curious, open mind, and  offering workshops that teach advanced listening techniques, such as reflecting back, reframing, and asking curious questions. A study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that feeling heard and understood contributes significantly to psychological well-being. The act of sharing your views in an environment that invites listening fosters a sense of validation and reduces feelings of isolation.

Respecting Differences: A Key to Empowerment

Our mission to teach you how to “disagree better” aligns with psychological research on empowerment. Studies have shown that individuals who feel a sense of control and agency over their lives are more likely to experience positive mental health outcomes. By creating a space where you learn to express your views in a way that invites open dialogue rather than defensiveness, we empower you to actively participate in shaping your communities and, by extension, your mental well-being.

Reducing Fear and Anxiety through Constructive Conversations

Political discussions, especially in today’s climate, can evoke fear and anxiety. Our workshops, such as “Your Brain on Politics,” provide valuable insights into understanding and navigating these emotional responses. Recent studies in neuroscience suggest that engaging your limbic system can influence emotional regulation. By incorporating this knowledge, we equip you with the tools to manage emotional reactions during political conversations, contributing to a reduction in fear and anxiety.

Building Connection through Curiosity and Hope

At its core, curiosity is the engine that propels individuals to explore the unknown, seek new perspectives, and understand the world beyond their immediate experiences. When directed toward other people, curiosity becomes a powerful tool for fostering connection. By asking questions, actively listening, and delving into the intricacies of someone else’s thoughts and experiences, individuals express a genuine interest in understanding the rich tapestry of human existence. Curiosity opens the door to empathy, creating a space where people can appreciate the diversity of perspectives that define the human experience. This sense of exploration and understanding not only deepens connections but also nurtures a shared sense of humanity, fostering bonds based on mutual respect and appreciation for the richness of individual stories.

During these polarized times, people are reporting finding it difficult to even know what to be curious about when it comes to people who are different from them.  They can’t imagine why anyone would vote “that” way or believe “that” fact.  We at Crossing Party Lines have leaned into this challenge. For those people finding their curiosity can only stretch so far, we’ve created advanced workshops on finding shared facts, talking about science, and moral foundations, each of which widens the curiosity door to include even those with whom they thought connection impossible.

Curiosity and hope are intricately intertwined, forming a dynamic duo: Curiosity creates a path to connection while hope provides the impetus for traveling on that path.  Hope is the belief that meaningful connections are possible and that positive outcomes can emerge from the complexities of human relationships. It provides the emotional foundation necessary to weather the challenges inherent in connecting with others. Sadly, the very same people who are finding it difficult to imagine what to be curious about also report having lost hope that meaningful connections with their political other.

Crossing Party Lines gives our members of some of their first experiences connection across the political divide, creating the spark of possibility. This spark encourages individuals to persevere in building connections even when faced with differences or challenges.  By emphasizing shared humanity and employing tools to navigate disagreements constructively, we foster a sense of optimism and agency among participants.

I hope you now see how our work goes beyond political dialogue, how it serves as a vital component of mental health promotion for everyone involved. Through community-building, active listening, empowerment, and the reduction of fear and anxiety, our initiatives align with the growing body of research highlighting the interconnectedness of civil discourse and mental well-being. As you navigate an increasingly polarized world, initiatives that promote understanding, respect, and connection prove essential not only for the health of our democracy but also for your well-being.

References:

1. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Social Support: How Friends and Family Can Help. [Link: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-support/index.shtml]

2. Journal of Counseling Psychology. (2014). Listening and Therapy. [Link: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2013-47195-001]

 

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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.