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wikiHow: How can I depolarize American politics?

How can you depolarize American politics?

America’s polarized politics is a cultural problem at its core. It results from toxic attitudes that we, as American citizens, carry with us regarding the opposing party and its ideas. Parties have increasingly become defined by social sorting, which, in turn, has increased the social homogeneity of each party. The consequences are devastating: there is little contact with opposing party members, little trust across party lines and significant affective polarization. In essence, anyone we disagree with politically becomes our enemy. Our society is trapped in this “us versus them” mentality. As a result, compromise is scarce, the legitimacy of the opposition is diminished and violence even sometimes breaks out. 

Regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on, gridlock, questions of the legitimacy of opposing partisans and the inability to collaborate make it extremely difficult to create any change within the government in either direction. This is a problem. 

So, how are we going to depolarize America? It is an overwhelming question. It feels entirely out of our control because, in many ways, it is outside of our control, at least individually. It is something that we as a country must shift together — a true culture shift. Yet, there are a few things you personally can do to reduce polarization in America. 

The first step to depolarizing America is to keep an open mind. 

Yes, it is that simple. Increasing social homogeneity within each party has created extreme stereotypes. For example, if you met someone who is a white, Christian male from the South you would probably assume they are a conservative Republican with particular opinions on a variety of controversial topics. This must stop. That is not to say to abandon all social cues and clues you might have about people. Rather, try to catch yourself when you assume someone’s views based on their religion, gender, socioeconomic status, race and geographical location.

The second step to depolarizing America is to listen to understand, rather than to respond. 

When you encounter a person that you believe has opposing views and believe you are likely to disagree, try to listen to understand. Seek to understand why they think the way they do. It is essential to resist the urge to immediately counter or dismiss their perspectives. Instead, commit to listening attentively and seek to comprehend the underlying motivations, values, and experiences that have shaped their beliefs. This shift from reactionary debate to genuine engagement enables us to transcend divisive stereotypes and build bridges of empathy and understanding. You might even find out that your opinions and values are not so different after all.

This brings us to the third step: have awkward conversations about the topics that you are supposed to avoid. 

Imagine: you are talking to a person with opposing views, or you assume (through stereotyping) that you are likely to disagree with a stranger. Talk about abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, gun control and similar uncomfortable, heated topics with them. Practice listening to understand, not to respond. Now you are engaging in responsible civic discourse — look at you! Participating in civic discourse and acquiring ample civic education are arguably the most crucial parts of being a responsible citizen. We must have these conversations. This does not mean that you need to seek one out every day. Instead, simply do not be afraid of them. Lean into them when they occur naturally and embrace them.

The final step: be curious. 

If you do not understand an issue or why an opposing partisan holds a certain viewpoint, ask them or do your own research. It is okay not to know. If you are mid-debate and find yourself unsure what to believe about a specific topic, or need help understanding, simply ask! Part of polarization stems from saying what we think our party would want us to say instead of formulating an opinion based on facts and educated reasoning. There is no shame in not knowing. There is no shame in changing your mind. Our desire to be correct and “win” arguments is part of the culture that reinforces polarization.

While the road to depolarization may be lengthy and challenging, it is not impossible. By collectively embracing the four-step method that I have outlined in order to foster a culture of empathy, understanding, and intellectual humility, we can work toward a more unified America, where constructive dialogue and collaboration prevail over division and conflict. 

This starts with each of us individually. We must make a conscious effort to change our habits and encourage others to do the same. With these four simple mindset shifts and new habits, you can help to depolarize America in your everyday life. 

Olivia Hrivnak is a third-year student living in Flaherty Hall studying economics and political science. She is a guest writer for and member of BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets bi-weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Duncan Student Center to learn about and discuss current political issues. You can contact BridgeND at bridgend@nd.edu.


BridgeND

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets bi-weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Duncan Student Center to learn about and discuss current political issues and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.