- Create more diversity in your social circles. If most of your friends tend towards a particular racial, political or religious profile, try to broaden your circle and invite people in that can bring some different perspectives. Resist the urge to “unfriend” those whose views you find repulsive. Leave the door open for greater understanding in both directions.
- Stop debating. Do you know how many people you have convinced to come over to your viewpoint with your impassioned posts on facebook? Your pithy tweets? Your lengthy comments supported with facts and references to debunk the other side’s articles? Probably not a single one. You would think that sharing perspective and facts would help people to understand each other better, ultimately reaching a more moderate and realistic view of a tough issue. But research shows that the opposite is true: dialogue and debate only pushes people further into the extremes of their own viewpoints (I think we are clearly seeing how social media is facilitating this dichotomous extremism today.) I know you think you are championing for moral justice, but actually, you’re just being obnoxious.
- Agree with those who hold opposing viewpoints. Sounds impossible, right? The reason this seems so difficult is because our brains are wired with a “confirmation bias.” Once we identify that someone is in an opposing camp, our brains will help us to think of them as the enemy by ignoring anything that might make them more relatable and focusing more on the things that we disagree with (thus “confirming” our initial impressions.) You can override this by intentionally finding elements of their position that you actually agree with (and maybe ignoring some of the ones you don’t.)
- Realize you are not thinking clearly. The confirmation bias is only one of many glitches in the way your mind works. It is human nature to believe you are thinking rationally and those who disagree with you are “stupid” or “crazy.” But be assured, you are not thinking rationally. If you don’t believe me, read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, or Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely for a glimpse into the HUGE body of science showing how illogical humans (yes, even you) can be.
- Acknowledge that you might be wrong. “Wrongologist,” Kathryn Schulz’ TED talk explains why it’s so hard to tell when we are wrong: “it feels like being right.” There are two things you can say about people who are willing to impose their views on others through violence: 1) they are usually wrong, and 2) they believe passionately that they are right.
- Be curious. Question everything. Why do you feel so strongly about the things you do? Why do other people feel differently? What would happen if you were in their shoes and vice versa? Ask questions. Listen. Try to understand ideas that don’t make sense to you. According to empathy expert Roman Kznaric, “highly empathic people have an insatiable curiosity about strangers.”
- Take it upon yourself to make the first step. Most people are very happy to have a positive interaction or to build a new relationship with another human being. But most people are also very reluctant to make the first step. Assume the burden of being first: to make eye contact, to smile, to nod, to say hello, to open a conversation, to say I love you, to say I’m sorry, to forgive. Go first. For those who do this, the rewards are plentiful.
- Play more. Athletes, especially those who participate in team sports, learn that life, even when competitive, should be about having fun. They learn to respect their opponents, be gracious in victory, and humble in defeat. They also come together with people from differing backgrounds that share their love of the game. Play a sport, join a team, or practice a martial art. And get your kids to do the same. They will learn how to settle their differences constructively.
- Practice Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM.) LKM is a meditation involving practicing compassionate thoughts towards yourself, your loved ones, acquaintances, and eventually (as you get more advanced) to everyone in the world, including those who might wish you harm. Think of it as a daily ritual to exercise your compassion muscles.
- Practice loving kindness. It is one thing to sit on a comphy cushion on your living room floor surrounded by aromatherapy candles practicing thoughts of compassion. It is another thing to turn your life into an expression of loving kindness by practicing it in your interactions with people every day. Look for opportunities to understand and alleviate the suffering of others throughout your day. Go ahead, make someone’s day.
“It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” Peace does not come from getting them to change. It starts with you.
References and recommended reading:
Ariely, D. (2010). Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Harper Perennial.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. London, Allen Lane.
by Jeremy McCarthy