“Could I just say that the intensity of this is getting pretty scary…and dangerous? We are heading toward a cliff and the usual brakes of civil discourse are not working.” -- Joe Klein, Time Magazine
Back in February I wrote a blog about the difficulty of listening and communicating openly and compassionately in our current political climate. I know I fail at this practically every day despite my best intentions. But there is an organization in Richmond, Virginia, my home town, that proposes to help us transcend this “tension of opposites.” That organization is The Chrysalis Group, and what they propose to do is offer people from every political persuasion the opportunity to explore this divide—not by shouting, but by working to understand it and examine it from many different levels.
The date of this event is October 26. What the folks at Chrysalis plan to do is provide an opportunity to hear experts explain what the divide is and how it is manifesting itself in the swing states, what the cultural implications of that divide are—the role the media plays and our how we unwittingly fall into traps that support division--and the broader context of the Jungian concept of polar opposites and vital role the management of these opposites plays in our individual and cultural health. After we have that framework, participants will have a chance to talk to each other in a facilitated discussion with the kind of ground rules that allow for respectful and honest dialogue.
What gives me hope about this event is the opportunity to step back and examine how we got here and what we do unintentionally to fuel the fire. That kind of understanding is crucial for the intelligent resolution of any conflict. Roger Fisher and William Ury’s classic book on conflict, Getting to Yes, called it “focusing on interests, not positions.” What they meant is that in any conflict, from the largest global conflagration to the most insignificant marital spat, the parties have interests they want to forward that frame the position they take in the conflict.
For example, if my husband and I disagree over the movie we want to see, we might talk about it in judgmental terms (this one is a slasher movie, that one is a chick flick), but underneath those labels are genuine interests we want to promote. Perhaps both of us want an escape after a difficult work week and both of us want to do something together. If we can get below the surface to talk about what’s important to us, often that’s where we can find points of agreement and the possibility of a win/win solution is born.
It is stepping away from the divide, trying to understand how we got there in a way that doesn’t lay blame, looking for the common ground—that’s where we can begin to shift our perspective and see the value of the opposite point of view. In an election year, the political parties are understandably trying to sharpen the divide in a way that promotes their chances of winning the election. But just because they are doesn’t mean we have to. As Supreme Court Justice Elena Kegan said, “And what I've learned most is that no one has a monopoly on truth or wisdom. I've learned that we make progress by listening to each other, across every apparent political or ideological divide.” I believe we owe it to our nation and to ourselves to keep trying.
Plum Cluverius, PCC is an executive coach with over 30 years experience in leadership development. She lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.