American democracy is under assault. The perpetrator? Toxic divisiveness.
I’m not taking political sides here. There are various elements of the political spectrum that have discovered the power of misusing EQ. They use empathy skills to figure out what will frighten people. Then they play on those fears for personal or political gain without regard to the long-term damage that is done. “A country divided against itself cannot stand.”
Research done by a Columbia University psychologist found that:
- 86% of Americans are sick to death of these tactics. But there is no organized voice for them.
- Outrage is addictive. It lights up the same parts of the pleasure center of the brain as does heroin. Many people seek out their daily fix.
In my community of Roanoke, Virginia, some of us have formed a group which seeks to give voice to the 86%. We call ourselves The Roanoke Collaboration Project. I’m writing this post in hopes that some of you will consider taking similar actions in your communities. Grass roots is the answer.
The group actually began meeting two years ago. We have purposely created a relatively small group that represents many of the subcommunities in our area: women, men, Blacks, Whites, members of three major religions (Christian, Jewish, Muslim), Republicans, and Democrats. We even had two state delegates for a while, one from each party. We have spent a lot of time listening to and learning from each other, discovering the value of really understanding diverse points of view. It is our guiding assumption that none of us has all the answers to the complex problems we face today.
We worry about all of the ways that toxic divisiveness gets expressed these days. For example, members of school boards get shouted down and called vile names. Good and decent people eventually get fatigued and frightened, leaving their seats open to be filled by those who can see only one side. Likewise, too often only the most fanatical politicians (playing to their bases, and never mind the others whom they are supposed to represent) get a place on the ballot.
We are about to launch something that we call The Collaboration Pledge. We’ll be seeking signatures from thousands of people throughout our community – the 86%. We will be giving them a forum in which they can “shout out” examples of collaboration, helping everyone see what is possible. Here is our version:
A Pledge for Our Community
I believe that a commitment to civility will make us a better community. Therefore, I pledge the following:
I will treat others with respect in my public discourse, both in person and online, and will not hide behind anonymity.
I will recognize that people are more than their points of view, and have feelings, just as I do.
I will seek to understand those with different points of view before asking to be understood.
I will not allow uncivil behavior from others to lead me to respond in kind.
My Request and Hope:
Coaches have essential skills which they can use to bring diverse people together to operate constructively. Our country is in crisis. If you haven’t already done so would you consider using your skills to create similar groups of diverse people in your communities?
If so, when you consider who you might recruit, first find one “buddy” who can help you think the issue through. (I founded our group in partnership with the CEO of a small software development company.) Then, ask yourselves what people who come from diverse backgrounds and bring the kind of emotional maturity this task requires each of you knows. Can these people hold two competing ideas in their heads at the same time? Talk with them. Learn from them. Hear their fears, reluctance, and doubts about whether trust in others who are not like them is warranted. Demonstrate your sincerity in trying. No guarantees.
To be clear, The Roanoke Collaboration Project is an all-volunteer effort. I don’t approach it as an expert consultant. I’m just a member like everyone else, though they respect and use my skills. And, thank goodness, they are not shy about letting me know what I still have to learn.
If you opt to take me up on my request, feel free to reach out to me with questions, or to let me know how you are doing. Groups across the country can support each other. Feel free to leave comments and questions on our blog page or write to me at email@example.com