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How CPL is Making a Dent in Polarization

The biggest complaint we hear from our members is that "all we do is talk." They tell us they want to make a real difference, with the most common theme being wanting us to come up with solutions and pass them along to the people in positions to translate our ideas into reality. But in truth, we are doing much more. By addressing both how we feel about others and what we think about them, CPL is equipping you to move through the world as an instrument of change.

You come to CPL because you are concerned: about our nation, about the issues, and about democracy. And yet, it may seem like all we do is talk. It’s not just talk, though. Everything we do at CPL is designed to reduce polarization in you and in your life. Conversation is our primary vehicle for changing the world by rekindling curiosity in you and teaching you a way to talk politics that makes it possible for you to see issues from multiple perspectives.

It’s just talk.

Actually, what we offer at CPL is a new way of talking politics. An effective way of talking politics. Whether you know it or not, we are teaching you the basic skills needed to work with others who see the world differently from you. For those of you who want to really focus on the skills, we offer a set of workshops, each addressing a separate skill.

But it’s still just talk.

At our conversations, you don’t just talk, you also listen.  By hearing views that are different from your own, you are:

  • Getting used to those views so you will be less reactive when you hear them.
  • Forming a bigger picture of the issues, one that provides insight into the complexity of the issues and into the fears and concerns driving a range of people from various sides.
  • Opening yourself up to new ideas for solving our nations problems, typically different from the ideas presented by either side.
  • Learning the “other” side isn’t necessarily stupid, crazy, or ill-informed.  There is integrity in their views.  They just see different things, from different angles, and bring a different set of experiences to the conversation.
But why doesn’t CPL do more?

We are doing more.  We simply choose not to take up valuable conversation time bragging about our accomplishments. Here are some of the things we are doing right now:

  • Developing the Libraries Project to get curious conversations happening in as many communities as possible.
  • Working with schools to support students, teachers, and administrators impacted by polarization.
  • Speaking events where we can bring more people into this work.
  • Testing and guiding the development of a mobile app for talking about politics outside of our hosted meetings.  (We hope to make this app available before the end of the year.)
  • Working with the Listen First Project and the Bridging Movement Alignment Council to drive greater impact for us and for the entire movement.
  • Participating in the National Week of Conversation (NWOC) to reach more people and up our game by collaborating with other bridging organizations.
  • Providing resources to help you advocate for the change you want to see.  We can’t advocate for you because we are a 501(c)3.  But we can show you how to do it yourself.
But it’s still just talk.

Another way to say that is, it all starts with talking.  Reducing toxic polarization starts with knowing how (and being willing) to talk to the “other” side.  Through our style of communication you connect with your political others and you clean up your thought processes.  That is, you are getting doses of both affective depolarization and cognitive depolarization.

Please explain.

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.

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 those 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.
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.

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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.