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Reconnecting Humanity: Building Alliance Beyond Polarization

Posted by Barton Cutter on Nov 4, 2016 8:00:27 AM

If you’re like me, watching the political landscape both nationally and internationally has become gut-wrenching. With each side becoming ever more entrenched in its own perspective and biases, we all seem less willing to explore other angles and listen to the perspectives of others. It seems impossible to find any real solutions to this perceived gridlock, as the issues themselves continue to persist and even worsen.

Despite the diaspora of vantage points and the perceived chasms that lie between each, there are areas where alignment can be found.

In his book Originals, Adam Grant suggests that aligning around common tactics, rather than ideology, often serves as an entryway to more sustainable alliances between groups over the long run. This is because when people align around tactics, it immediately commits them to something actionable, while at the same time forging relationships across those with differing viewpoints.

He points to the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. as a prime historical example of this. The movement, which had been splintered between hardline and more moderate approaches, was able to align with those in the conservative Woman’s Christian Temperance Union by arguing that women’s ability to vote would support traditional values in the home. This lead to several years of collaboration between the two camps that brought about a moderate argument for women’s right to vote that eventually lead to the passing of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Today, similar parallels may be drawn across party lines. For example, the environmentalists of today, often associated with the left, have a vested interest in green energy for the political motive of saving our planet. The value of green energy itself also holds interest to libertarians, whose right-leaning approach views green energy as a means to energy independence and thus the protection of national security.

When bringing together opposing perspectives under the guise of a common interest, our natural capacity for human connection begins to grow. And while the underlying motivations of each side may remain unchanged, the relational interaction that comes out of the collaborative experience opens a doorway. The threshold of the collaborative process forces us to consider the human connections that underpin any particular political stance or motivation. It connects us to our frontal lobes and makes us more tolerant and understanding of those we work beside.

In these times when the issues fade from black and white to a highly varied spectrum, our capacity to move forward and find similarities among our values and hopes is enriched by our ability to align around strategic elements. From there, we can open ourselves to the larger conversation of what it means to understand and appreciate perspectives on all sides.

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