The key to beginning to bridge the huge social and political divides that the election results brought out so starkly is to engage and build relationships with each other rather than continue to attack and defeat each other. To do that, it is essential that we first listen to each other, with true curiosity, and as compassionately and non-judgmentally as possible. We need to listen to the thoughts, feelings, concerns, and needs of each other, but even more importantly, to listen to each other’s STORY – what experiences has someone had that have led that person to what they believe and how they act. In this way, we can hopefully find common ground and a shared path to go forward, even if we don’t agree on beliefs and policies. At the very least, we can lessen the sense of alienation and demonization that is so polarizing our country now, and create a deeper understanding and compassion for each other. That certainly doesn’t solve all the problems and conflicts, but it can create a foundation for more constructive relationships and engagement, and, ultimately, reconciliation. While it is comforting – or satisfying – at this time, depending on which side of the divide you are on, to only relate to those who think like you do, it is essential that, eventually, we reach out across the divide to build connections.
There are several organizations out there dedicated to bringing people together for constructive and relationship-building dialogue where there has been a deep divide, often based on political and moral beliefs. The organization I trained with, the Public Conversations Project (now called Essential Partners), focuses on asking truly open questions, from an attitude of curiosity, to learn about each other’s deeper story, rather than to win an argument. Based on my study and practice, here are 4 sample questions that can facilitate understanding, learning, and relationship-building:
- What is one question we can ask those we disagree with to better understand their experience, perspectives, attitudes, concerns, hopes, and needs?
- What can we acknowledge about the experience, perspectives, attitudes, concerns, hopes, and needs of those we disagree with, so that they will feel better understood?
- What is something we can share with those we disagree with about ourselves so that they can better understand our experience, perspectives, attitudes, concerns, hopes, and needs?
- What actions can we take with those we disagree with that will lower the level of mistrust, fear, anger, and division, and begin to create connection, relationship, and a more inclusive sense of “us”?
My goal is to train others in my community, and beyond, in relationship-building dialogue and then implement such dialogues wherever possible.