When will the divisiveness end?

Linda S. Wallace, Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 7/7/2017, 10:36 a.m.
When will the divisiveness end?
Linda S. Wallace

Dear Cultural Coach:

It’s discouraging that we make little progress in overcoming divisions. Behold! We have a new one – the reds and the blues. Can’t we put a stop to this before it goes any further?

– READER from Spring, Texas

Dear Spring:

Political, racial and religious divisiveness will continue as long as the majority of decent people continue to promote special interests rather than the common good.

Years ago I participated in an interesting management training exercise. A group of reporters, photographers and newspaper editors played a game in which teams were offered a chance to either rack up big points or take a stance that supported the interests of the broader group.

If all teams voted to support the group’s common interests, then each would split the points awarded during that round. However, if just one team broke rank, that team collected all the points and the rest of the teams had points taken away.

Since our facilitator did not define the game’s objectives for us, we had to figure out how to “win.” If our team voted to protect the group’s interests but others did not, our team would end up with a point deficit. (Did having fewer points make us a loser?) If we voted to protect our team’s self-interest, then we might score big, but our community would end up worse off.

Did putting self-interest first ultimately make us losers or winners? Each management team had to identify its core values before it could decide how to vote.

Afterward, the facilitator told us that only twice had they conducted the game where every participant voted to protect the community’s interests throughout the entire game: The first time was with a group of nuclear scientists; the second was with a group of Roman Catholic nuns.

Americans are in much the same situation as the players in this game. When all teams work together, the group wins because it is stronger, and more cohesive. When groups choose to put self-interest ahead of the community, individuals may thrive, but the population grows more fragmented and more vulnerable.

You asked me what we can do to stop the divisiveness: Well, we have to validate differences, and learn how to compromise. Each political perspective has its unique set of blind spots. When we stand side by side, we can see what the other guy can’t see. We are stronger, together.

Think of it as a dangerous intersection. Look only to the right, you will miss the trouble approaching from your left. Look only to the left, you are vulnerable to dangers coming from the right.

The sensible answer is to look both ways, and keep your eyes and heart open.

After the presidential election, I heard from many Americans who pledged to work for inclusiveness and against divisiveness. Following a post-election column on the need to learn how to disagree, I received thought-provoking e-mails from people who seek to unite us.

How to cut the tension

• Learn to live with disappointment. When we don’t get our way, look to ourselves for solutions.

• Learn to live with the fact that we will not always be right. Sometimes it is more beneficial to allow others to “be right” to get along.

• Learn to live with the fact that when we are proven wrong, it is not a catastrophe. Get over mistakes and move on.

• Live as gentle warriors. Get power and influence from the way we behave rather than from our words.

• Whenever possible, create situations where all participants in a game walk away with a little prize.

• Don’t end a political disagreement without taking a moment to return to the common ground. Say kindly, “I’m listening. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in a way that makes it easy to hear you.”

• Instead of focusing solely on what we want, let’s each identify the things we are willing to give up. Instead of focusing on what the other side is doing wrong, let’s each identify opportunities for improvement.

(Linda S. Wallace is