We all love hearing beliefs that are indistinguishable from our own. What can we make of this propensity to rejoice over conversations where the participants agree, confirm and even applaud our beliefs? The ego remains convinced that its current version of truth must be correct. It is often the ego’s tenacity about being right that derails conversations involving different beliefs. Of course, the gusto around the need to be right quickly slips into an investment to win as one idea is aimed at outperforming someone else’s idea.
Once we are locked into being right and winning, the building blocks of divisiveness are in place. Divisiveness has some strong attitudinal expressions. The cognitive intonation is to simply think of the person or group holding different beliefs as either stupid, crazy or evil. Divisiveness becomes more dense as that idea finds a home in our belief system. The emotional components of divisiveness can include fear, anger and disgust. With both the cognitive and emotional elements in place, the behavioral pieces of fight or flight (avoidance) are inevitable.
Divisiveness is self-generating. We collect information or simply create stories that confirm our original attitudes about a person or group holding different beliefs. When divisiveness peaks it becomes easy to see it as impossible to have a meaningful conversation. Bridging the gulf between differing views is now out of the question. At best, we avoid one another.
Because divisiveness is so self-perpetuating, it is critical to disrupt it as soon as possible. The key is to move into building bridges or employing a unity consciousness protocol as soon as possible.
The following are steps that can eliminate or at least mitigate divisiveness.
*Let go of any glorification regarding stepping into an argument. Arguments are designed to display coherent and logical reasoning. Learning and collaborating are not the typical goals. Arguing is simply aimed at demonstrating that my reasoning is more plausible than my opponent’s – yes, my opponent, since it’s all about winning. Seldom does someone feel understood with a new perspective ensuing. Bridges can be built when we suspend arguing. The key is to remain mindful that strong diverse beliefs are value-laden with hope, longing, devotion, passion and loyalty. Arguing is better left to the local collegiate debating team.
*Interrupt an investment in being right. Letting go of an attachment to being right needs to happen early on in a conversation. This can be challenging because the ego has spent so much time attempting to be right that the alternative may be very unclear. It can be helpful to say at the beginning of a conversation, “I don’t want to attempt to prove that I’m right in this conversation. I hope you might join me with the same intention.” However, often during the conversation you might feel challenged, confused or defensive and will need to return to releasing some need to be right.
*Describe your political or religious position and the values being supported by your position. Values represent cherished principles that give your life meaning and spell out the worth of what you find important such as safety, power, trust, love and freedom. Employing this guideline might sound like: “I’m voting for Chris Murphy because he is in favor of more gun control. The value behind my decision is action I want to take in order to diminish violence.”
*Describe further how the value serves your life. An example might be: “I’m inclined to be a pacifist. Plus, after the massacre of the children in Newtown, CT, I feel like a hypocrite if I don’t actively support non-violence.”
*Listen to the political or religious position as well as the values of the other person. The key to genuine listening is to interrupt any need to criticize or influence. Remain curious about how your speaker’s values serve his or her life. It can be extremely helpful to hold the faith that you are listening to a deeply human story reflective of sorrow, loss, struggle, disillusionment, victory and love.
It’s important to ask, “What makes building bridges so challenging?” We learn very quickly in life about the importance of getting our ideas confirmed as correct. The price for not being right is shame for being wrong. The right answer becomes a powerful metric for our essential worth. We’re not encouraged to be curious, hence, we either keep our mouths shut or speak when we are damn sure we’ve got it right. Building bridges is a spiritual practice allowing the attachment to being correct to atrophy, replaced by authentic curiosity and compassion for ourselves and others.