Charting a Path to Bridge Divides (Part 3 of 3)

In Part 1 of this Series, we wrote about the danger of the moral high ground, particularly as it relates to ending dialogue before it begins. In Part 2, we wondered, if it is not framed as a moral divide, then what is the nature of the divides in the US and elsewhere. We offered some thoughts on this including that the schism may be between reality-based narratives and fictional narratives which, we believe, increases the challenge. In this third post, we propose a few ideas on how to chart a path to bridge divides, in the hope it is useful in many possible contexts, not just the specific one we have been reflecting on.

Define the Issue in a Way We Can Engage It (Clarify)

The moment we define our divides as moral issues we dig in and eliminate possible paths to dialogue. Thinking strategically about the psychology of human behaviour offers useful insights if we are to have any hope of bridging these divides. We cannot come to this through an expectation that another person or group of people just needs to be more educated or have their eyes opened and they will come to the side of “right and honour”. It does not and will not work that way.

In our CIDA-W planning model for change, this would be the Clarify stage. Learn as much as you can about the question or issue under investigation to become clear on what is at the heart of the divides.

If we begin to understand communications and relationship from a behavioural science and human dynamics perspective, we take it one step out of personal blame and accusation to apply a different lens and a different curiosity. It begins to open up the possibility of questions we didn’t think of before.

Instead of asking why did people vote for the person they did, the question could be what were they voting for? Or against? What is the narrative they/we believe that is motivating their/our behaviour? What possibilities exist outside of unhelpful binaries, like they voted for racism or they voted against injustice? It is more nuanced and more complex than any binaries we might choose to examine.

Acknowledging to Heal (Illuminate)

We cannot begin to heal divides until we can define and acknowledge the nature of the divides and where  healing is needed. In our CIDA-W planning model this is Illuminate. Not just on the surface. Not just the obvious. But the deeper, underlying and particularly repetitive patterns that perpetuate new, perhaps even more insidious, versions of themselves. The way the patterns of discrimination born out of slavery have been perpetuated by Jim Crow, by segregation, by different banking rules and so much more.

This is why Truth and Reconciliation and Reparations work is so important. We cannot do this piecemeal. We cannot reform these big societal issues one aspect at a time, as we have been wont to do with a mechanistic, part-by-part approach to finding solutions as Michelle Holliday, author of The Age of Thrivability, referenced in her post on Preparing the Ground for a More Perfect Union.

What are the deep-seated issues and structures that influence voter choices or how we see and interact with each other? How is fear a motivator? How do systemic behaviours lock us into unchallenged positions? How are easily rendered, attention capturing narratives part of these deeper patterns? As we mentioned in Part 2, noted historian Heather Cox Richardson stated that the divide may be one between reality-based and fictional narratives, especially ones that have gained prominence since the mid-1990s.

Examine Our Own Worldviews and Notice Our Triggers

Our attachment to our worldviews influences our behaviours, including voting choices.  Voting choices reinforce our perspectives and positions. All of this feeds our sense of identity and grows our attachment to our views and to individuals who we might vote for or otherwise support.

When you think about talking to someone who voted differently than you, can you imagine a constructive conversation? Or can you see yourself rising to levels of frustration and possibly even name calling because that person will not listen to “reason”?

What is the Invitation? Is It Sincere? (Design)

As mentioned in the previous post, we have been talking about this for days. Implicit in so much of what we are examining as we imagine an invitation is whether it is a sincere invitation. Or is the energy behind it more like a comeuppance, as if we are perched on the moral high ground, consciously or not?

We have even imagined we could say, “I won’t ask anything of you that I won’t ask of myself.” Which sounds noble. But sitting with it, it is simply not true. I want to ask more of you than I ask of myself. Because no matter what we say, we are deeply attached to our worldviews and especially the ones we consider to be at the heart of our moral certainty.

If this is not the invitation and the exploration, then what is? This question brought us out of either/or and compromise thinking to imagining what more is possible, what is beyond you and me, your worldview and mine, your narrative or stories and mine? Something that could be discovered together.

Reduce the Resistance

Loss aversion tells us the loss we anticipate we may experience through change looms far larger than the anticipated gain from the same change. That loss seems even greater if we see or experience the change as a challenge to our identity, our status, our privilege, our safety or any other key aspect of who we are, like our reality, our values and our imagination of what the future holds.

What are the ways we can lessen that threat in order to create an opening for shared exploration? To begin with, what if we stopped talking about how wrong people are in their views and actions and begin trying to understand what is motivating those views and actions? What is the source of someone else’s motivation? What is the foundation of their worldview? What is the narrative that rings true?  And not just for the other people we are trying to understand, but also for ourselves. Because reluctance and resistance are also in us. And what if the options are out in the field beyond left and right, right and wrong thinking? Can we chart a path to meet there?

Safe and Unsafe Spaces

An aspect of our Worldview Intelligence work is creating spaces “safe enough” to have “risky conversations”. We write extensively on this in our book, Building Trust and Relationship at the Speed of Change. In discussions on tough issues, particularly polarized issues, very few people ever feel safe. Sometimes as facilitators or hosts of these conversations we don’t feel safe either.

The goal is to create the conditions for “safe enough” so that each can choose to risk more, while maintaining human decency. This is a space that allows for the expression of emotions, to speak from lived experience, to learn how to listen and take in the pain, to be moved by it.

This is the space where we learn not to defend. To not argue with or judge someone about their experience. Where we learn to apologize for hurtful words or actions even and especially when harm was not our intent. Especially related to how much privilege we have. The more privilege, the more listening and not defending matters.

If we start with creating space safe enough for everyone and not just ourselves, we can move into riskier space together.

How to Start (Act)

At Worldview Intelligence, we are being called to action. Over this past year in particular, we have been immersing ourselves in expanding our worldviews with respect to understanding systemic racism, white privilege and other critical societal issues like misogyny and xenophobia and related violence and economic injustice.

One learning from all of this is we may not get it right but we will learn. And we won’t have a chance to improve if we don’t dive in. Not being sure of how to do this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We also know we are better, more imaginative, more innovative when we bring many perspectives and views together.

Everyone we know has these challenging relationships and conversations in their lives to one degree or another. Many of us may feel powerless to shift the political dynamics but every one of us can look closer to home, to the spheres of influence and opportunity we do have.

Co-Creative Planning

To this end, we are getting ready to invite exploratory, co-creative conversations to plan templates for conversational action rooted in our Worldview Intelligence Approach and the Six Dimensions Framework. Then we will invite prototyping and feedback loops. If any one of us is stepping onto risky ground, we will not be alone. I know I might fail. So might others. But that failure will be worth the learning that will create more and more possibility for successful explorations.

As we said above, not everyone will want to come on this journey. That’s okay. We do not need to engage everyone. It is enough to begin with those who are willing to engage in the risk even as we acknowledge our own vulnerability stepping into this path. Send us a note if you want join in?