Navigating Polarization: A Roadmap

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One of the things that the COVID-19 crisis has shown us is the interconnectedness of the humanity. Technology has enabled us to develop global networks making the world much smaller. 

This has made it clear that many of the problems we now face are global in nature ranging from climate change to international finance.

Yet, our politics and dialogue have become more divisive. We retreat into our social media echo chambers failing to entertain opposing views.

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I think philosophy can play a role here in mending polarization in society through carefully examining our beliefs and using reason and logic to come to sensible conclusions. Crafting the space for dialogue and accepting the degree of vulnerability necessary to have authentic conversations can enable us to be more tolerant of opposing views.

In order to do this however we have to adopt an earnest commitment to seeking truth. Yes, we can ultimately come to different conclusions after our own analysis. However, we don’t need hold resentment or contempt to those who oppose us.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that

Martin Luther King

Of course, there is no silver bullet response to this issue of polarization but here are some approaches which can help restore more authentic and genuine dialogue.

Socratic Questioning

If you have ever taken an intro to philosophy class you probably have come across the peculiar and intriguing figure known as Socrates. A man of ancient Greece, Socrates would openly challenge conventional wisdom and societal norms through rigorous questioning and dialogue.  

The Socratic method is meant to unpack our beliefs to assess whether they are backed by evidence and logically coherent. Through this we can identify potential inconsistencies and counter arguments for our convictions. 

This approach teaches us to assess our opinions with curiosity and inquiry like a scientist testing out various different hypothesis. Furthermore, it requires us to approach problems with a degree of humility and cultivate the willingness to change our minds if we are confronted with evidence that requires us to do so.  We can peel away the layers to expose the core values underpinning our beliefs, and perhaps start to see those whose opinions differ from ours with a sense of empathy and understanding.

True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.

Socrates
Source : Max Böhme

Mindfulness and Non-Judgemental Awareness

As humans, we are fraught with bias continually jumping to conclusions without a thorough examination of evidence. Mindfulness and self-awareness can play a role here as an antidote to self-deception.  This practice allows us objectively be conscious of our passing emotions and sensations. Under stress, pressure and intense dialogue we often act on instinct rather rational thought.

If we were to take a brief pause to observe our bodily sensations, we can be aware of our racing heart rate, sweaty palms and maybe the fiery burning sensation in our chest. Rather than acting out on this, we can become mindful and accept these feelings and allowing them to pass.

Through awareness and acceptance, we can be in the driver’s seat to have greater control over our emotions during a heated conversation.  We can distance ourselves from these uncomfortable feelings and respond more rationally.  

Rule Omega

The notion of Rule Omega is an idea put forth by Jordan Hall, Daniel Schmachtenberger and Jamie Wheel on the Rebel Wisdom channel. It holds every statement, even if it is contrary to our core values, contains some ‘signal’(truth) and ‘noise’(non-sense). Rather than focusing on the areas where we disagree, we can shift our attention to the aspects of our opponents’ statement that we can understand and sympathize with.

Andrew Sweeny summarizes this idea nicely below,

We desperately need to pay attention to people who are outside of our information bubble or ideological group. A good practice Schmachtenberger suggests we expose ourselves to multiple sources of media on the right and on the left. For example, a liberal could watch Fox News occasionally and a conservative could read The Guardian…………

The point is to venture into the places that make us uncomfortable, and try to see what part of the truth those ‘enemies’ hold. Sometimes a holy grail of truth is buried under a mountain of lies.

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One of the traits I want to cultivate through this blog as well as through my mindfulness practice is to try and look at issues from an unbiased and objective standpoint – to distance myself from my internal biases and judgements. Of course, this is not easy and will take practice and time as I strive towards the virtues of empathy, compassion and understanding.

I encourage all who are reading this, try stepping out of your information echo systems and make a genuine effort to try and understand different opinions and beliefs. You never know, you may see things in different light.

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