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There is much hand wringing in America today about the lack of civility in political discourse, and especially on the internet. But a polite civility that papers over differences may not help us understand our conflicts either.
A different approach is to try to dig down to the deep human needs we share. For example, if you ask sensitive or deeper questions of
- those who want to maximize American military power and approve of recent U.S. wars, and of
- those who, on the contrary, want to scale the military way back and spend the money on a foreign policy of “generosity not domination,”
you usually find that they have at least one thing in common: a desire for American security. They just imagine or trust in different routes to get there. If we can ask each other about and recognize that shared desire, we may be able to avoid dehumanizing each other when we disagree about our policy preferences. Demonization of the other and self-righteousness about ourselves are endemic on both Left and Right. They inhibit constructive discussion. Listening to each others’ fears and needs, and expressing our own, is a surer way to get to mutual understanding of differences and even of surprising convergences and potential alliances. Someone might even change their mind and it might be us. That’s one of the definitions of dialogue: a conversation in which both sides are open to changing their minds.
Few of us are skilled in this type of discourse. Can we take small steps towards it here? We will be most grateful for any steps any of our commenters can take towards building a culture empathy on this site.
“For me, empathy is the thing which removes blocks to action, not the thing which makes me feel better.”
— Dominic Barter