With the United States mid-term election coming up, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about political polarization and what we in the mediation field can do about it.
You might have seen the excellent Beyond Intractability project being run by Mediate.com friends Guy and Heidi Burgess (you can check out their excellent introductory article and invitation to participate here). I just contributed an article to their project that focuses on the use of positive reframing to address polarization (you can see it here) that reads in part:
‘A knee-jerk accentuation of the most inflammatory component of a counterpart’s argument may make it easier for your side to “win,” but a deliberate attempt to understand and engage with the strongest part of your counterpart’s argument will bring us closer to true deliberative dialogue.
Utilizing positive reframing in your political conversations — e.g. demonstrating that you have really heard the core contentions of the other side, and that you are willing to engage with the strongest part of their argument — is unusual these days. But in my experience, when you do it, the response from the other side is usually surprise, gratitude, and a more open mind.’
I also really liked the video above from my friend Bob Bordone, which provides some good options for tackling polarization. As he notes, we are less polarized than the media portrays. Stories of conflict get more clicks and eyeballs than stories about shared interest and equanimity, so the media ecosystem is feeding this narrative of polarization to all of us — which is reinforcing the trend.
But as Bob notes, we are not helpless in turning the tide of polarization. He provides four tips that everyone can follow to change the narrative:
Mediators are conflict specialists, and we know what it looks like to move a dispute from impasse to agreement. The time is now for all of us to use our skills not only for the benefit of the parties we work with, but for our society as a whole. Our country needs us more than ever.
From the Mediate.com interview series -- a conversation with Lela Love about her chapter in the book "Evolution of a Field: Personal Histories in Conflict Resolution," recorded December 1, 2021By Lela Love