I hope you enjoy this first issue of Civil Squared, our new weekly feature equipping you with the content and context to increase your influence and impact.
We all want to belong somewhere.
But what happens when we feel like we don’t because we’re at odds with our family, friends, or co-workers over politics?
Like me, you probably find comfort in the company of those who share your deeply held beliefs. It feels good to be yourself without also feeling the need to constantly defend your point of view.
More and more of us are finding that sense of belonging and identity in our political beliefs. A 2018 Pew Research poll found that, for both Republicans and Democrats, “a major reason they identify with their own party is that they have little in common with members of the other party.”
But does identifying with your tribe really make you happy?
Loneliness is on the rise in the United States
I love the work being done by Common Ground Solutions. They’ve put together a great summary of research on the issue of loneliness, and they’re working across the political spectrum to reverse the trends that appear to be making our people and politics less healthy.
Arthur Brooks, in a recent article for The Washington Post, places the blame, at least in part, on political polarization:
When we politically curate our networks and friendships, most of us have fewer opportunities for new social interactions. If I am unwilling to interact with people who hold — or who might hold — the opposing viewpoint from mine, I have cut way back on the number of people with whom I might make a meaningful human connection.
It is nice to feel like you belong, but is the discomfort of disagreement so awful that you are willing to forego meeting new people and hearing new viewpoints?
We recently chatted with John Wood, Jr. and April Lawson from Better Angels, an organization working with both the right and the left to depolarize America. They believe that “depolarization” – or breaking down the barriers between political tribes – begins not in Washington, D.C. but at home, in your community. John and April want to help you and your neighbors build “an infrastructure to support…communal relationships and social, associational relationships.” Those relationships, in turn, can help all of us navigate our disagreements and they help us to not feel so lonely.
What do you think? Do you feel like your social relationships are limited because you don’t want to leave the comfort of your tribe? Are you in a bubble? We discussed this very question with John Inazu, professor of political science, law, and religion at Washington University in St. Louis, in our podcast and *spoiler alert* the answer is probably ‘yes’!
Encouraging constructive conflict
Evan Mandery, a professor and self-described liberal New Yorker, went looking for different points of view. He eventually found himself in rural North Carolina, teaching ethics at Appalachian State University. His class dealt with issues that many of us find divisive when we encounter them: gun control, immigration, abortion, etc. He used shared values, a lot of listening, and he encouraged students to disagree, all in an effort to have respectful discourse on these topics. The results were positive:
Instead of concerning ourselves with ensuring safe spaces for students, we need to create more spaces in which constructive conflict can occur. Trust me, no one will get hurt. Even in a classroom with divergent points of view on hot-button political issues, no one said anything racist or bullying. In my entire career, I’ve never seen a classroom conversation degenerate into the kind of ad hominem attacks that are rampant on social media and cable news.
Maybe we can all take a page from Professor Mandery’s book and adopt a spirit of humility and inquiry. Let’s see out new perspectives and work to reconnect with one another and repair our relationships.
Start a conversation
At the Center for the Study of Liberty, we’re working to build a free society by creating spaces for civil discourse, one conversation at a time. Join us in this effort! Risk a little discomfort and start a conversation this week with someone who doesn’t agree with you. You might just find that it makes you feel less lonely. Oh, and if you do, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it goes.
5 links worth your time
- Why Intentionally Building Empathy Is More Important Now Than Ever, KQED Mindshift – Is responding with empathy a “radical act”? A Stanford psychologist explores the potential for personal and cultural transformation.
- Having a Library or Cafe Down the Block Could Change Your Life, CityLab – Where can we go to connect with those outside of our tribe? Studies have found that living near “community-oriented public and commercial spaces” decreases loneliness and brings other social benefits.
- You’re Not Listening. Here’s Why, The New York Times – Are you feeling disconnected from even those closest to you? Read about the “close-ness communication bias” and how it might be contributing to a sense of isolation from our loved ones.
- How shared meals can help bridge our partisan divide, USA Today – Organizations (like the Center for the Study of Liberty!) recognize the value of sitting down to a meal together as a great way to open a dialogue.
- The Perception Gap, More in Common – Take a quiz to explore where your perception of ideological opponents may be off.
p.s. I hope you found this first issue of Civil Squared interesting and worthwhile! At the Center for the Study of Liberty, we are listening to you, and we want to know what issues you find challenging to discuss with others. If you’ve got a political, ideological, or philosophical issue you’ve been going over and over in your head, email me and I’ll work with my team to put together a list of articles, issues, and interesting points of view to share with you and others. – Jennifer