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Jesse Lyn Stoner


How to Take a Stand Without Polarizing Others

‘We must use critical thinking skills and determine for ourselves what makes sense.’

Published: Wednesday, October 4, 2017 - 12:03

Are you fatigued and disheartened by the current amount of polarization in the world today? Are you frustrated with leadership that divides instead of unites?

Instead of wishing someone would do something about it and feeling helpless, focus on the place you have the most control—your own immediate sphere of influence. Take an honest look at your own beliefs and actions, and consider how you might be contributing to perpetuating the polarization.

Negating people who don’t agree with you alienates them and makes it impossible to find common ground. Indeed, some people, like white supremacists and neo-Nazis, are so filled with hate that there can be no common ground. But most people are not that extreme, and it is important that they not be pushed to the edges.

Polarization is self-reinforcing

If you only talk with people who agree with you and only read and listen to news sources that hold your own viewpoint, you will get distorted, filtered information that simply reinforces your viewpoint.

Unless we let go of foregone conclusions, only looking for proof of what we already believe, we are doomed to be stuck at deeply opposed, irrresolvable poles.

According the the JFK Library, one of Kennedy’s favorite quotes was based on Dante’s Inferno: “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” Is it possible that the level of polarization today has become a moral crisis? If so, how can you stop contributing to polarization without compromising your views?

It doesn’t have to be either/or. You can do both—you take a stand for what you believe and also not contribute to polarization.

Three steps to take a stand without polarizing others

What do you think would happen if you took these three steps and encouraged your friends to do so also?

Step One: Set your viewpoint and judgments aside and get a wider range of views about what is going on.

Seek accurate information. Get as many facts as possible. What occurred or is occurring now?
You can’t depend on the “news” to spoon-feed you. The idea of unbiased journalism died a long time ago. Technology has created access to many direct sources of news. However, not all of it is accurate. And you must actively sift through the so-called information, look for patterns, and identify those who are pushing an agenda rather than reporting facts. These resources will help:
• Tips to determine accuracy of what you find on the internet
• How to evaluate the validity of research that is quoted

Listen for understanding. What are the viewpoints of those you might not agree with?
It might be hard to listen to other viewpoints, especially when they are laced with anger and hatred. But there are nuggets of truth. And it is our responsibility to sift them out. Here are five tips for how to really listen.

Step Two: Now pick your judgment back up. Put what you’ve learned in step one through your own filter of beliefs, values, and feelings to make sense of it.

Ask yourself:
• Do you see a bigger picture?
• Can you imagine how people you disagree with might have come to their conclusions?
• Is there any common ground where you do agree with them?
• What are the areas where you agree on the same desired end result but disagree on the means to achieve it?
• How does seeing this affect your stand?
• How does it affect your beliefs about those who don’t agree with you?

Step Three: Choose your actions wisely and intentionally.

You don’t have control over what you feel, but you have a choice about what you do. Reactivity might make you feel better in the moment, but it often leads to regret down the road.

The best thing you can do is allow yourself to feel anger or whatever arises without taking action. Once you no longer feel reactive, then choose a response that is respective of the other person and still honest about where you are. Use the word “I” instead of “you.”

If you find yourself generalizing about “those people,” it’s time to pause and go back to step two.

Remember to be honest with yourself that the “truth” you see is a filtered one.

First published Sept. 4, 2017, on Jesse Lyn Stoner's Blog. © 2017 Jesse Stoner


About The Author

Jesse Lyn Stoner’s picture

Jesse Lyn Stoner

Jesse Lyn Stoner, founder of consultancy Seapoint Center, has worked with hundreds of leaders using collaborative processes to engage the entire workforce in creating their desired future. Stoner has authored several books including Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2nd rev. ed. 2011), co-authored with Ken Blanchard. Stoner is recognized by the American Management Association as one of the Top Leaders to Watch in 2015 and by INC Magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Experts. Stoner has advanced degrees in psychology and family system, and a doctorate in organizational development.