Leadership Across Difference: Tips from A to Z
These research-based tips come from many sources used in the LEAD Office’s “Leadership Across Difference: Lessons from Medieval Spain” program at George Mason University. Go beyond individual actions to consider groups/organizations/systems.
Below is a very brief list of each tip from A-Z, followed by a longer explanation of each one further down this page.
Alignment: Find a baseline of agreement before addressing controversial topics (“We’re both X”, “We agree on X”).
Biases: Audit your contacts, compassionately uncover biases & seek positive examples that counter stereotypes.
Contact: Promote intergroup contact w/conditions (e.g., common goal) to lower prejudice & boost understanding.
Distract, Delegate, Document, Direct, Delay: Support those being harassed w/ the 5Ds of Bystander Intervention.
Ethical Analysis: Balance multiple ethical principles. Consider 5Cs: Character, Code, Consequences, Care & Consult.
Fake It: Surprisingly, action often needs to precede attitude. Act how a genuinely compassionate uniter would act.
Gratitude: Appreciate what’s good in your life. Gratitude isn’t complacency, it can benefit both you & others.
Humanize Others: Respect others as human beings, even when you don’t respect their views/actions.
Individuate: Get to know out-group members as individuals, beyond assumptions about their group identity.
Justice: Promote fairness (not contempt/revenge) when important rules/principles are violated by ppl/systems.
Know Yourself: Examine your identites, talents, strengths, privilege & power. Recognize & manage your emotions.
Love Self/Others: Cultivate love/compassion for yourself, expand it even to “enemies.” Will the good of the other.
Media Literacy: Check your sources & their motivation(s). Do you/they fact-check & corroborate information?
Necessity: Consider how we need one another. Find pragmatic common goals (e.g., economic/defense interests).
One Good Thing: Bridge differences by looking for at least 1 good thing, even in those who have wronged us.
Pluralism: Explore how multiple/conflicting perspectives each can hold some truth, while some are clearly wrong.
Questions: Sincerely ask good open-ended questions vs. reciting facts. Help others generate their own conclusions.
Reason: Why treat others well? Go beyond reciprocity or reputation & use reason to see the basic dignity of all.
Scapegoating: Resist the impulse to carelessly & unfairly blame others. Hold the appropriate people accountable.
Truth: Honestly & humbly seek facts. Acknowledge what you don’t know & be open to changing your mind.
Understanding: Listen with sincere curiosity, not just to disprove. Restate another’s position to their satisfaction.
Values: Live by & appeal to cross-cultural values like compassion, fairness, honesty, respect & responsibility.
Why Good Ppl Do Bad Things: Counteract harmful biases, rationalizations, situational factors & social pressures.
X it out: Avoid echo chambers, mindless partisanship, assuming motives & demonizing those you disagree with.
Yourself: Challenge yourself with these tips & expand from there- “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Zero-sum Thinking: Another’s gain isn’t necessarily your loss. An out-group’s success can benefit everyone.
For more information about A-Z above, see the information below:
Alignment: Establish & emphasize a baseline of some area(s) of agreement before addressing controversial topics (e.g., “We agree on X”, “We’re both X”, “We both care about X”). You may need to agree to disagree, or avoid some topics, but try to make shared beliefs & identities salient. Make it clear that others don’t need to deny or discard aspects of their identity (e.g., race, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc.) to reach alignment. See “Humanize Others,” “Truth” & “Values” (below) for where to start to find alignment.
(Retrieved on April 10, 2022 from: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/work-2-0-the-obstacles-you-dont-see/; Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 241 in ePub; Retrieved on Nov 7, 2022 from: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/relationships-2-0-how-to-keep-conflict-from-spiraling/; Retrieved on November 23, 2022 from: https://freakonomics.com/podcast/im-your-biggest-fan/)
Biases: Acknowledge that we all have biases. No one is completely objective all the time. If we think we are completely objective our hidden/implicit biases may become more insidious. Attempts at stereotype suppression rarely reduce biases. Try the following instead:
- Make implicit biases explicit. Compassionately uncover implicit & explicit biases and stereotypes (your own & others’), reflect on why they occur & how they can be avoided in the future. Different doesn’t need to mean bad/evil.
- Do an audit of your contacts (individually & in the groups you belong to). Who is in your circle? Who do you spend time with? Do you personally know those with different identities & ideologies? Do your groups/organizations make a real effort to include those with different identities & ideologies? As Monica Guzman from the non-profit Braver Angels states: “… whoever is underrepresented in your life will be overrepresented in your imagination.”
- Seek counterstereotypes (e.g., look for positive examples of individuals from a stereotyped group).
- Connect with people from different backgrounds. This can reduce biases and stereotypes, but it may need to be done under specific circumstances- see “Contact” (below).
- Take the perspective of what it would be truly like to be the other person, ideally through deep relationships over time.
- Find commonalities across differences, not just what’s different (see “Alignment” above).
(Robert Sapolsky from Behave, p. Loc 564; Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 294 in ePub; Retrieved on November 23, 2022 from: https://freakonomics.com/podcast/im-your-biggest-fan/; P.G. Devine et al, Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 1267–1278)
Contact: Promote intergroup contact to reduce prejudice & increase understanding. Simplistic contact can exacerbate conflict, but 5 conditions from Gordon Allport’s “Intergroup Contact Theory” can help:
- equal status across groups,
- common goals across groups,
- intergroup cooperation,
- potential for friendship, &
- support for the contact/interaction from authorities, customs and/or laws.
For example, consider highly diverse sports teams who unite around a common goal.
(Jennifer Eberhardt from Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, p. 228 in ePub; Robert Sapolsky from Behave, p. Loc 5641; Retrieved on Nov 23, 2021 from https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/group-think/; Retrieved on March 18, 2022 from: https://freakonomics.com/podcast/how-to-change-your-mind-update/; Heather McGhee from The Sum of Us, p. 483 in ePub; Retrieved on January 9, 2017 from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23231030-600-you-are-an-asshole/; Robert Putnam and David Campbell from American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, p. 892 in ePub; P.G. Devine et al, Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 1267–1278)
Distract, Delegate, Document, Direct, Delay: There are some actions that you can take in the moment to intervene when you see harassment or other forms of injustice occurring. Right to Be, a non-profit organization, suggests implementing the 5Ds of Bystander Intervention when you observe harassment. Distract, Delegate, Document, Direct, Delay.
- Distract: Take an indirect approach to de-escalation. Safely interrupt the harassment by starting an unrelated conversation with the person being harassed, asking them for directions, or drawing attention away from them by dropping something, etc.
- Delegate: If appropriate, quickly find someone next to you, or an authority figure (e.g., teacher, store manager, transit employee) and ask them for help. For example, you can ask the person next to you to cause a distraction while you try to talk to the person being harassed. You can ask the person being harassed if they want you to call the police (note: be aware that they may not). Work with a friend or someone else nearby (work together to use different 5D approaches).
- Document: If someone else is already helping the person being harassed, it may be helpful to record the harassment, depending on local laws and how safe it would be to do so. If no one is helping them, try one of the other Ds 1st. When recording, keep a safe distance, film something that indicates the location and say the time and date. If you do record the incident, be sure to ask the person who was targeted what they’d like to be done with the recording (e.g., never use it or post it without their permission).
- Direct: Assess the situation. If it’s safe to do so (and unlikely to escalate the situation), firmly and clearly speak up about the harassment by saying succinct things like: “leave them alone”, “that’s disrespectful.” You could also speak directly to the person being harassed (e.g., “Do you need help?”, “Should we leave?”). This is the most direct and potentially most risky of the 5Ds.
- Delay: You can check in with the person after they have been harassed. Harassment may happen very quickly, and after an incident it can help to say that you’re sorry about what happened to them and ask: “are you OK?”, “do you need anything?”, “can I sit with you or help you get somewhere?”.
(Retrieved on December 21, 2022 and adapted from: https://righttobe.org/guides/bystander-intervention-training/)
Ethical Analysis: Over two thousand years of moral philosophy point us to some essential questions to ask when reasoning about decisions that affect ourselves and others. Balance multiple ethical principles by considering the 5Cs of Ethical Analysis:
- Character: What kind of person should I be? (e.g., compassionate, fair/just, honest, respectful, responsible)- See “Values” (below)
- Code: What if this action were made into a rule/code for all to follow? Am I respecting others’ rights and not just using them?
- Consequences: What will bring the best results and least harm for all who might be affected?
- Care: How can I treat others as I/they would like to be treated?
- Consult: Who will help me consider diverse perspectives and avoid harmful biases?
If time is short and you need an abbreviated version, ask yourself these 3 questions:
- What are our highest values? See “Values” below
- What if everyone did this action?
- What might be the broad consequences of this action?
Whenever possible, allow people enough time to mindfully and deliberately use the 5Cs questions to make decisions. Seek to institutionalize these questions in groups & organizations. Also see “Pluralism” & “Why Good People Do Bad Things” (below).
(Retrieved on December 29, 2022 from Take5.gmu.edu)
Fake It: Counterintuitively, action often needs to precede attitude. Act how a genuinely compassionate uniter would act, even if you don’t feel it at first. (Note: This does not mean being phony, and it can backfire if your motivation is to change others’ perceptions of you. Be sure that your motivation is to improve relationships and change yourself internally.)
Envision a positive interaction across your differences with others- this can reduce anxiety and produce better outcomes. It may help to plan out (or script) important interactions. Consult with those who are wise, impartial, and knowledgeable about potential triggers, especially when strong emotions could be involved. Be in control of your actions instead of controlled by your emotions (see “Know Yourself” below).
(Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 89 in ePub; Retrieved on Nov 7, 2022 from: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/relationships-2-0-how-to-keep-conflict-from-spiraling/; Retrieved on July 30, 2023 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201606/when-to-fake-it-till-you-make-it-and-when-you)
Gratitude: Find ways to appreciate & be thankful for what’s good in your life. This doesn’t mean passively ignoring what’s unfair or being complacent. It means looking for areas that are going well so that we don’t ignore them and so that they become salient. Research shows that gratitude is good for us personally & can make us more likely to behave in a prosocial way, treating others well- even those who are very different from us (e.g., enhancing empathy & reducing aggression).
(Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 89 in ePub)
Humanize Others: Respect others as human beings even when you don’t respect their views/actions or don’t know them personally. It can be especially important to focus on those you don’t see as part of your “us.” Counteract the tendency to automatically & carelessly put others into categories that deny their full humanity. Counteract explicit & implicit stereotypes about others/groups (see “Biases”, above) by recognizing humanity in each person/group.
As professor john a. powell states: “… even if the people of our respective communities or our countries are acting in ways that we believe are unworthy of human beings… we must still care enough for them so their lives are in ours. Their question and ours become inseparable.”
(Retrieved on January 9, 2017 from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23231030-600-you-are-an-asshole/; Retrieved on March 18, 2022 from: https://freakonomics.com/podcast/how-to-change-your-mind-update/; P.G. Devine et al, Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 1267–1278; john a. powell quote Retrieved on February 22, 2023 from: https://bioneers.org/john-powell-celebrating-diversity-create-inclusive-society-ztvz1801/)
Individuate: Get to know out-group members as individuals, beyond assumptions about their group identity. The Rev. Dr. Jaime Washington states: “People will treat you by your group until they know you as an individual. But depending on what they think of your group, they may never see you as an individual.” Gather specific information about individuals & consider your similarities. What do they like to eat? Do they love their families, their children? This can help turn a “them” into an “us.” As Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky states: “… individuate somebody, break them out of being an automatic ‘them’; and think about, do they like the same pets that you do? Do they love their kids? Look at a picture of them singing lullabies to their children. Look at a picture of them enjoying the same food that you do.”
(P.G. Devine et al, Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 1267–1278; Sapolsky, R. M., (2017) Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst).
Justice: Promote justice & fairness (not contempt or revenge) when people, organizations, and/or systems violate important rules/principles (e.g., when people harm others, violate their rights, break the law, etc.). Some people/groups may not listen to reason, and we need ways to hold them accountable. Unfair conditions (e.g., socioeconomically) can breed resentment, polarization, coercive leaders & unrest. Ensure that trustworthy institutions, policies & systems enact justice, not just individual decisions.
(Robert Putnam and David Campbell from American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, p. 72 in ePub; Retrieved on Nov 29, 2021 from https://freakonomics.com/podcast/arthur-brooks/; Retrieved on March 9, 2022 from: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/16/opinion/sunday/covid-plague-work-labor.html (M.T. Anderson, the author of “Feed” and “Landscape with Invisible Hand”); Heather McGhee from The Sum of Us, p. 451 in ePub; Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 110 in ePub)
Know Yourself: Examine your multiple identities, talents, strengths, privilege & power (Note: power can go beyond position to include relationships, expertise, etc.). Use your self-understanding to bring different people together for positive change (see “Ethical Analysis”, “Pluralism” and “Values” for ideas about what constitutes positive change). Are you strategic? Generate multiple possible options for a positive solution. Are you empathetic? Use your ability to understand others’ feelings & incorporate them into your ideas & plans. Recognize & manage your emotions. Pay attention to what may take you off course. Have a plan to disengage if things get too heated in a conversation about differences (e.g., calmly saying “thanks so much for speaking to me about this, let’s find another time to talk again”).
(Giving Voice to Values curriculum collection: https://givingvoicetovaluesthebook.com/; Beverly Daniel Tatum from: The Complexity of Identity: “Who am I?”)
Love Self/Others: Cultivate love & compassion towards yourself, expand it to those you care about, to strangers & even to those you actively dislike or see as “enemies.” This can help build trust and build bridges across differences. To “will the good of the other” can be extremely difficult, but contempt hurts you & can perpetuate a vicious cycle.
Professor john a. powell has some helpful advice here: “Now, for of those of you who are bridgers—and I hope before the day is out, if not already, you’re all bridgers—I have a word of caution for you from my good friend, bell hooks. She says, ‘Bridges are made to walk on. So, when you first become a bridge between two communities that see themselves in opposition, you will be walked on and occasionally, hopefully not too often, you will be stomped on.’ But I say this, ‘If the world is not bridged, if we do not have more bridges in the world, if we continue to break, we won’t have a world.’ So your work as bridgers, even though sometimes you’ll be walked on, occasionally stomped on, is critical for the survival of a planet.”
(Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 68 in ePub; Paul Wesselmann email series, Ripples #1176: Wishing Others Well, Monday, December 6, 2021; Retrieved on May 8, 2021 from: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/playing-favorites/; Retrieved on March 9, 2022 from: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/opinion/colleyville-texas-synagogue-antisemitism.html; Retrieved on Nov 26, 2022 from: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-to-have-curious-conversations-in-dangerously-divided/id1544098624?i=1000586946898; john a. powell quote retrieved on February 22, 2023 from Retrieved on February 22, 2023 from: https://bioneers.org/john-powell-celebrating-diversity-create-inclusive-society-ztvz1801/)
Media Literacy: Be vigilant about checking the sources of information you consume. Do your news sources follow journalist ethics, including fact-checking and corroborating the information they provide? Examine the reliability of information you see, and the motivation of the news sources. Beware of the confirmation bias & the common tendency to share posts that express outrage with moral emotional words. If we don’t start with actual facts, we won’t have a shared starting point and can go way off track.
(Fighting Disinformation Can Feel Like a Lost Cause. It Isn’t by Jay Caspian Kang. Retrieved on March 9, 2022 from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/opinion/fighting-disinformation-education.html?referringSource=articleShare; Retrieved on August 15, 2022 from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/30/admin/why-new-york-times-anonymous-sources.html; Retrieved on Nov 23, 2021 from https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/screaming-into-the-void/)
Necessity: Necessity may be required to motivate some people to work across differences. Not everyone will utilize reason (see “Reason” below) to conclude that we’re all deserving of basic dignity and respect. Consider how we might need one another & find pragmatic common goals (e.g., shared economic interests, common defense).
(Heather McGhee from The Sum of Us, p. 451 in ePub; Robert Putnam and David Campbell from American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, p. 72 in ePub; Retrieved on Nov 29, 2021 from https://freakonomics.com/podcast/arthur-brooks/; Retrieved on March 9, 2022 from: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/16/opinion/sunday/covid-plague-work-labor.html (M.T. Anderson, the author of “Feed” and “Landscape with Invisible Hand”))
One Good Thing: Look for least one good thing, even in those who have wronged us. For example: “I have seen them going out of their way to help someone in trouble” or “I think there’s some validity to their criticism even if I don’t agree with their solution.” This doesn’t mean ignoring what’s wrong or being conflict-avoidant. Counterintuitively, this can help us bridge differences.
(Retrieved on March 18, 2022 from: https://onbeing.org/programs/sharon-salzberg-robert-thurman-love-your-enemies-really/#transcript; Retrieved on November 29, 2022 from “Braver Angels: Depolarizing Within” Handout)
Pluralism: Moral pluralism is the idea that multiple, sometimes conflicting, perspectives about right & wrong can each hold some truth & are worthy of respect, while some perspectives are clearly wrong. Moral pluralists believe that no single perspective will consistently provide all the answers. They pursue a middle ground between 2 more extreme ideas: absolutism (“there’s only 1 right way”) & relativism (“there’s no wrong way”). Moral pluralism can help us find a middle ground between being too rigid and too permissive.
Why does this matter? Because our beliefs can drive our actions. Consider the person who believes “there is one right way to determine what’s right and I know what it is” and wonders “how can I show others the truth of what I believe?” Someone who thinks this way may be less likely to want to listen to others and more likely to want to impose their views (e.g., more likely to want to show others how they are wrong or “backwards” or engage in colonization). See “Understanding” below.
Consider the person who believes “we should each do what we feel like doing in the moment” and “we can’t say what’s right or wrong about someone else’s culture.” Someone who believes these statements may be less likely to want to help those who are being oppressed or persecuted (e.g., less likely to want to intervene in a genocide or when the Taliban denies women & girls an education). The person who believes in moral pluralism may be more likely to consider & be respectful of different individual & cultural perspectives (ideas across difference) without concluding that “anything goes.”
Moral pluralism highlights a valuable lesson: There seem to be some truths about right and wrong and multiple perspectives may each illuminate a piece of those truths. We believe that the evidence favors a pluralistic approach to ethics. When deciding what is right, we suggest considering a few well-respected approaches which come from over 2,000 years of moral philosophy (see “Ethical Analysis”, above).
(Retrieved on December 24, 2019 from: https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/moral-pluralism; Diana L. Eck, Founder and Director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, 2006; Retrieved on August 3, 2018 from http://pluralism.org/what-is-pluralism/; Robert Putnam and David Campbell from American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, p. 17 & p. 930 in ePub; Retrieved on December 20, 2022 from: https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/moral-pluralism); Retrieved on December 30, 2022 from: https://take5.gmu.edu/light/spectrum/)
Questions: Plan out and ask good questions with sincere curiosity (e.g., Would you be willing to share your thoughts on X? What do you hope for? What are your concerns? What does X mean to you? Who benefits from the decision, policy, practice, and/or program being considered? Who is harmed by it? Whose perspectives are we missing? How can we include them?). These questions can help us check assumptions & build trust. People often don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Ask yourself “What’s the strongest argument for their perspective?”
Before sharing an opposing viewpoint, ask those you’re speaking with “Would you be open to a different perspective?” This usually has more impact than reciting facts or forwarding articles. Help people gain ownership of an idea & generate their own conclusions (e.g., “What do you think might help?”, “How might a different perspective be right?”). This is more likely to lead others to consider new ideas than having a direct confrontation. For important conversations, think through your questions in advance and script them out in consultation with wise colleagues/friends who are aware of the potential differences and sensitivities.
Question asking techniques that also incorporate sharing stories can be particularly helpful when seeking to help someone change their mind about a topic. This is more powerful than facts alone. Regardless of your political beliefs, PeoplesAction.org shares some helpful information about something called Deep Canvassing: “Deep canvassing is one of the most proven and durable forms of persuasion… Deep canvasses are candid, two-way conversations where canvassers ask voters to share their relevant, emotionally significant experiences and reflect on them aloud. Deep canvasses typically involve:
- Non-judgmentally soliciting voters’ views and asking follow-up questions about voters’ experiences.
- Sharing narratives about personal experiences with the issue that reinforce values relevant to the issue.”
For a video clip of Deep Canvassing in action, see: Leadership LAB Conversation with a Voter about Transgender Rights (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2663J2d3VY4)
(Retrieved on April 10, 2022 from: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/work-2-0-the-obstacles-you-dont-see/; Retrieved on Nov 7, 2022 from: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/relationships-2-0-how-to-keep-conflict-from-spiraling/; Retrieved on Nov 26, 2022 from: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-to-have-curious-conversations-in-dangerously-divided/id1544098624?i=1000586946898; Retrieved on January 6, 2023 from: https://peoplesaction.org/deep-canvass-experiment/; Video retrieved on January 6, 2023 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2663J2d3VY4)
Reason: Why treat others well? Because you’re related (relatives), you want a favor repaid (reciprocity), you want to appear virtuous (reputation)? Go beyond relatives, reciprocity & reputation to use reason to see the basic dignity of all. Consider these questions:
- Why am I more important than someone else? What is the morally relevant difference? Don’t we all have the capacity to experience happiness as well as suffering?
- Imagine that you visit an area where some children are suffering because they are extremely hungry. Should your hunger matter more than theirs? Does hunger affect them less than it does you? What’s the relevant difference between your hunger and their hunger?
Reasoning can help us to conclude that we’re all deserving of basic dignity and respect (see “Humanize Others,” above). In The Elements of Moral Philosophy, James & Stuart Rachels state: “It is this realization- that we are on par with one another- that is the deepest reason why our morality must include some recognition of the needs of others…” (Rachels, p. 88). Consider the power of reason through “Ethical Analysis” (above) to inform your motivation.
(Michael McCullough from The Kindness of Strangers, p523 in ePub; WeTake5.gmu.edu; Rachels, J. & S. (2006) The Elements of Moral Philosophy)
Scapegoating: When things go wrong, there is a human tendency to want to find someone to blame. Resist the impulse to carelessly & unfairly blame those who are not responsible (see “Biases” above for some tips). Take responsibility for your contribution (even if it’s small). Hold the appropriate people accountable (see “Justice” above).
(Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 110 in ePub; Jennifer Eberhardt from Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, p. 228 in ePub)
Truth: Honestly & humbly seek facts. Acknowledge what you do not know & be open to changing your mind. No one has a monopoly on the truth (see “Pluralism” above). Those you disagree with may have a piece of the truth you haven’t considered. Respectfully help repudiate falsehoods (see “Justice”, “Media Literacy” & “Questions” above).
(April Lawson from the non-profit Braver Angels. Building Trust Across the Political Divide, The surprising bridge of conflict. Retrieved on December 31, 2021 from: https://comment.org/building-trust-across-the-political-divide/; Fighting Disinformation Can Feel Like a Lost Cause. It Isn’t by Jay Caspian Kang. Retrieved on March 9, 2022 from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/opinion/fighting-disinformation-education.html?referringSource=articleShare; Retrieved on August 15, 2022 from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/30/admin/why-new-york-times-anonymous-sources.html)
Understanding: Seek to deeply understand different people, cultures, ideas, policies, etc. This should include ideas we disagree with, or think we disagree with. It should also include an understanding of the suffering of others. As Beverly Daniel Tatum states: “There is a need to acknowledge each other’s pain, even as we attend to our own.” Listen with sincere curiosity, not just to disprove. This can help others feel heard & trigger reciprocity, inspiring them to listen to you & increasing trust. Restate another’s position to their satisfaction. Explaining something complex about others, to the point where they agree that you understand, can reduce over-confidence & polarization. It can help us to realize that we don’t understand a person, idea, policy, etc. as well as we thought.
When possible, have opportunities for everyone impacted by a decision to share their viewpoints and be involved in the decision-making. When we don’t include others in decision-making, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t care if our ideas fail. As mentioned in “Questions” (above): for important conversations, think through your questions in advance and script them out in consultation with wise colleagues/friends who are aware of the potential differences. This can help you stay calm and really focus on listening to understand (see “Know Yourself” above). Look for the underlying meaning(s) or concern(s), not just what’s on the surface. Consider the strongest argument for their perspective. Take the perspective of a member of a stereotyped group. Try to get to a point where you can honestly say “I never thought of it that way.”
(Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 68 in ePub; April Lawson from the non-profit Braver Angels. Building Trust Across the Political Divide, The surprising bridge of conflict. Retrieved on December 31, 2021 from: https://comment.org/building-trust-across-the-political-divide/; Beverly Daniel Tatum from: The Complexity of Identity: “Who am I?”; Retrieved on March 18, 2022 from: https://freakonomics.com/podcast/how-to-change-your-mind-update/; Retrieved on Nov 23, 2021 from https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/edge-effect/; Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 68 in ePub; ; Retrieved on Nov 7, 2022 from: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/relationships-2-0-how-to-keep-conflict-from-spiraling/: Retrieved on Nov 26, 2022 from: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-to-have-curious-conversations-in-dangerously-divided/id1544098624?i=1000586946898; P.G. Devine et al, Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 1267–1278)
Values: Live by, and appeal to, values commonly shared across individuals, cultures and time periods. Research by Rushworth Kidder, Founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, has found 5 values that seem to be universally appreciated: compassion, fairness, honesty, respect and responsibility. Use these values as a gift, not a weapon (e.g., saying “you don’t know the 1st thing about respect and compassion” is unlikely to sway someone to your viewpoint). Anticipate values conflicts so you’re more likely to remain calm when they arise (see “Know Yourself” above). When values conflict (internally or with others), look to “Ethical Analysis” (above) for respected ethical principles to help resolve the conflict.
(Rushworth Kidder from Moral Courage; Giving Voice to Values curriculum collection: www.GivingVoiceToValues.org; Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 294 in ePub)
Why Good People Do Bad Things: We don’t always follow reason (see “Reason” & “Necessity” above). Harmful biases, rationalizations, situational factors & social pressures can overwhelm our reasoning & our character. Counteract these harmful these factors (see ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu), challenge systems that keep them in place & take personal responsibility. Whenever possible, allow people enough time to mindfully and deliberately use Ethical Analysis (above) to make decisions.
(Source: Why “Good” Followers Go “Bad”: The Power of Moral Disengagement. Johnson, Craig E.; Journal of Leadership Education; 2014 Special, Vol. 13 Issue 4, p36; Retrieved on Oct 25, 2022 from https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/video/intro-to-behavioral-ethics)
X it out: Avoid narrow exposure to the same viewpoints (e.g., echo chambers), mindless partisanship, assuming you know what a term/phrase means to someone (e.g., gun rights, gun control), assuming you know others’ motivations, pejorative labels, demonizing those you disagree with & comparing them to Hitler or Putin. Don’t focus only on the worst-case scenarios or most extreme examples of those you disagree with. Instead, start to build bridges with those who don’t threaten your identity (see “Contact”, “Questions” and “Understanding” above). X out contempt & hate (see “Humanize Others” above). In his book Love Your Enemies, Professor Arthur Brooks suggests NOT doing the following: “Watch a ton of cable TV and read your favorite partisan columnists; silo your news feeds on social media; curate your friends and stop talking to people on the other side; compare people you disagree with to Hitler or Stalin; make huge assumptions about others’ motives; hate; hate; hate.”
(Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 323 in ePub; Retrieved on Nov 26, 2022 from: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-to-have-curious-conversations-in-dangerously-divided/id1544098624?i=1000586946898; Retrieved on November 29, 2022 from “Braver Angels: Depolarizing Within” Handout)
Yourself: These tips may sound like things that others need to focus on, not you. Challenge yourself with these tips and expand to other individuals, groups, systems and societies from there. Learn about your own intersecting identities. What assumptions do you find yourself making about others? Who do YOU see as “us” or “them?” Reflect on what has helped you to learn about, work with, and care for those who are different from you (see “Biases” and “Understanding” above). We often can’t change others, but we can start with ourselves. Focus on what you can control & “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Identify 3 actions you can take from this list of research-based tips. Make a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Based). Make a personal commitment, share your SMART goal with others and identify at least 1 accountability buddy, someone who will help you follow through.
(Arthur Brooks from Love Your Enemies p. 68 & p. 160 in ePub)
Zero-sum Thinking: Sometimes we assume that if a perceived out-group is succeeding, our in-group must be failing (e.g., “they profit at my/our expense”). This may be true (e.g., competition for very limited resources), but often it’s not. Another’s gain isn’t necessarily your loss. Carefully consider what’s “zero-sum” & what can be “win-win” (e.g., racism & sexism ultimately hurt all of us). A perceived out-group’s success can benefit everyone (e.g., vaccine access can bring herd immunity, social mobility can surface talent). Envision situations where another’s gain is also everyone’s gain (e.g., opportunities for those in poverty could lead to an unknown talent finding a cure for an infectious disease).
(Heather McGhee from The Sum of Us, p. 22 in ePub)
What have you found helpful from the list above?
What would you add?
What would you be willing to try?
- Brooks, A. C. (2019) Love Your Enemies: How decent people can save America from our culture of contempt. New York, NY: Broadside Books.
- Christakis, N. A. (2019) Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. New York: Little Brown Spark.
- Devine, P.G. et al. (2012). Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 1267–1278
- Eberhardt, J. L. (2019) Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do. New York: Viking.
- Gentile, M. C. Giving Voice to Values Curriculum Collection: https://givingvoicetovaluesthebook.com/
- Greene, J. (2013). Moral Tribes: Emotion, reason, and the gap between us and them. Penguin Press.
- Johnson, Craig E (2014). Why “Good” Followers Go “Bad”: The Power of Moral Disengagement. Journal of Leadership Education; 2014 Special, Vol. 13 Issue 4, p36
- Kang, J. C. Fighting Disinformation Can Feel Like a Lost Cause. It Isn’t. Retrieved on March 9, 2022 from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/opinion/fighting-disinformation-education.html
- Kidder, R. (2006) Moral Courage. New York: William Morrow.
- Lawson, A. (2021) Building Trust Across the Political Divide, The surprising bridge of conflict. Retrieved on December 31, 2021 from: https://comment.org/building-trust-across-the-political-divide/
- Lowney, C. (2006) A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain. Oxford University Press.
- McCullough, M. E. (2020) The Kindness of Strangers: How a Selfish Ape Invented a New Moral Code. Basic Books.
- McGhee, H. C. (2021). The Sum of Us: what racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together. First edition. New York: One World.
- Pinker, S. (2018) Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. New York: Viking,
- Putnam, R. D., Campbell, D. E., & Garrett, S. R. (Collaborator). (2012). American Grace: How religion divides and unites us. Simon & Schuster.
- Putnam, R. D., with Shaylyn Romney Garrett. (2020) The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again. Simon & Schuster.
- Rachels, J. & Rachels, S. (2006) The Elements of Moral Philosophy (5th & 7th editions). McGraw-Hill
- Sapolsky, R. M., (2017) Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. New York, New York: Penguin Press.
- Tatum, B. D. (2000). The complexity of identity: “Who am I?.” In Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W. J., Hackman, H. W., Zuniga, X., Peters, M. L. (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, sexism, anti-semitism, heterosexism, classism and ableism (pp. 9-14). New York: Routledge.