Eight keys to overcome our differences (2023)

you are a bridger

We'd both like to believe it's us. Finally, for the past two years, we've helped run the Greater Good Science Centerreconcile differencesInitiative that explored the keys to positive dialogue and understanding across boundaries of race, religion, political ideology and more.

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However, this work raised some challenging questions for us. Does "bridging differences" mean that we hide social injustice in pursuit of social harmony? Do we have to sacrifice our ideals to always find common ground with others? Or to accommodate views or behavior that we find repugnant?

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These questions have become even more pressing in recent months as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced recognition of systemic racism in this country and all of the resulting inequalities. Calls to “eliminate differences” during this period seem to gloss over centuries of discrimination and oppression and urge reconciliation before fully acknowledging and addressing the experiences of African Americans.

This is one of the many reasons why we feel it is important to clarify what overcoming differences really means. By reviewing years of research on the subject and speaking to some of the leading voices in the field, we uncovered eight key principles for explaining what it is and what it isn't.

1. The bridge begins with the recognition of a shared humanity

First, it's important to emphasize that building bridges doesn't mean you always agree or even find common ground with another person. In fact, you cannot vehemently agree with them. But the key is that you don't dehumanize them in the process, never reduce them to a caricature or see them as less worthy of health and happiness than you are.

In fact, the bridge starts with realizing that another person or group has their own human needs, preferences, values, goals and worldview, just like you do. Without this fundamental recognition of their shared humanity, constructive dialogue, let alone problem solving, is unlikely.

"A lot of bridges are built because someone feels heard," he says.Juan A. Powell, civil rights expert and director of UC Berkeley'sInstitute of Alterity and Belonging. “It means a lot to see, hear and understand. . . is very close to being loved.

On the other hand,Investigationby Emile Bruneau and Nour Kteily suggests that dehumanizing a member of another group is strongly associated with feelings of hostility and aggression toward that group; These are the kinds of feelings that “fuel cycles of intergroup violence,” write Bruneau and Kteily. Otherlearnfound that people who dehumanize their political opponents see greater moral differences between their groups and even prefer greater social distance from them; in fact, the opposite of attachment.

2. The bridge is not about persuasion; it's about understanding

The ultimate goal of overcoming differences is not to convince the other person of your point of view, nor even necessarily to create consensus.

“The bridge is not a difficult way to convert people to your ideological position,” says Rev. Jennifer Bailey, founder of the Faith Matters Network and co-founder of the Faith Matters Network.the village meal, which brings people together over dinner to address challenging issues.

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Rather, the core of bridging work is trying to understand another person's perspective. Even if you don't share their views, don't discount them; They dig deeper to try to understand where these visions come from. This often requires asking questions and being willing to withhold judgment.

The benefits of this kind of perspective taking are profound: alearn, led by UCLA researcher Margaret Shih, suggests that when a member of one ethnic group tries to see the world through the eyes of someone of a different ethnicity, they report that they like members of that group more and are more likely to like them. help.Other investigationssuggests that perspective-taking reduces instinctive racial bias.

However, it's worth noting that Bruneau's research found that when there are power imbalances between two groups, someone from the lower power group is more valuable.Butyour perspectiveinstead of trying to take the other person's.

3. The bridge does not require you to give up your beliefs or values.

The term "bridge" can often appear as a synonym for compromise. To overcome your differences with someone else, it is believed, you must give up your own deeply held beliefs.

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    To search forvideos about bridgescreated in cooperation with NationSwell.

    Learn more about GGSCsreconcile differencesInitiative.

"Today, the notion of structural and systemic change is offered in the national media rather than being 'bipartisan,'" said Steven Olikara, founder and president of theMillennium Action Project(MAP), in recentGGSC event to overcome differences. In other words, those who want to build political bridges must not stray too far from the status quo.

But instead, in MAP's solutions-focused work with young politicians on the left and right, Olikara found that bridges make things happen and even bring about changes that some people thought were too ambitious, such as:End of Party Rigging in Ohio.

"This is an example where we had a radical idea about structural and systemic change," says Olikara, "but we [Rev. dr Martin Luther] King wanted to build bridges, not just with people in the moderate center, but across the political spectrum. , and that's how we got enough support to finally get through it."

4. The bridge involves inner work, not just action.

When we think of overcoming differences, we often think of grand gestures or groundbreaking conversations. But the truth is, a lot of the work happens before these events happen. To empower them, we often need to cultivate the right mindset and psychological approach, and we can (or should) do this outside of our interactions with other people.

That's why an essential part of the GGSCPlaybook to match the differencesis dedicatedintrapersonalSkills - Skills you can practice on your own to develop your ability to interact more positively with other people and between groups.

For example, research has shown that practicingconsciencereally canBreak prejudiced attitudes and behaviorsagainst members of another group.

5. The bridge requires modesty and humility

Bridging the gap often involves accepting that you don't have all the answers or a monopoly on the truth, a perspective researchers call "intellectual humility."

This is particularly important as bridges often involve contacts between people from different cultures or communities. You probably won't get very far in bridge building if you assume that your own knowledge or history is definitely correct. That's true whether you're talking about important historical events or your own family history - you need to realize that your narrative isn't the only one that matters.

In fact,Investigationfound that when people with strong religious beliefs were confronted with the teachings of another religion, those with less intellectual humility argued more vehemently for their own religious beliefs and more vehemently against the beliefs of the other religion than people with greater intellectual humility. modesty. More humble people showed greater openness to other people's opinions and experiences.

6. The bridge is sometimes about small changes over time.

While overcoming differences may involve trying to overcome a history of conflict (interpersonal or political) or forging an alliance between formerly opposing groups to work towards a common goal, it sometimes focuses on more modest changes. This could simply mean setting an intention or an openness to change in the future.

"Sometimes you just put up a flag in your country that says, 'I'm working on it,'" he says.Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and faculty advisor at the Greater Good Science Center. "Sometimes it's the compensator's job to make small incremental changes."

In this sense, Powell speaks of "short" and "long" bridges; The psychological and emotional distance one has to travel determines the length of the bridge.

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For example, on a short bridge, two people might believe in climate change but have different approaches to how to deal with it.

Then there are cases where the distance between two people seems greater and more difficult to bridge. One person might be a climate change activist, while the other might be an outright climate change denier. Crossing these longer bridges requires an investment of more time and confidence. There is also more at stake.

While crossing a long bridge is an ambitious and rewarding goal, we shouldn't underestimate the importance and even challenges of crossing a few smaller bridges as well. In fact, crossing these short bridges can be good practice for finally crossing the longer ones.

7. Bridges are not risk free

Building bridges often means taking risks and exposing vulnerabilities. There is a risk that your suggestions will be rejected, and you often have to express feelings of hurt, anger or disappointment.

“The first person is most at risk, but once that happens, others are likely to follow,” says Powell.

Perhaps most of all, if you really try to listen to the opinions of others, you run the risk of being changed or swayed by what you hear.

“That willingness to change is also a necessary part of the authentic bridge,” says Bailey. "I don't think you can walk away from a bridge scenario, especially if you're bridging differences and staying exactly the same."

8. Not everyone should build bridges

In part because of these risks, it is important to recognize that not everyone can or should be a bridge builder or feel compelled to build bridges in all situations. Liaison work should not be carried out on call.

It is ethically questionable and, according to research, often counterproductive to ask people to overcome differences when they are discriminated against or denied social power. Before they are ready to build a bridge, some need to heal from personal trauma. And it can be psychologically damaging, not to mention physically dangerous, to try to connect with someone who denies your fundamental right to exist or who threatens you with violence.

As we indicated above, bridge building should not be used as a means of persuasion or coercion, particularly to consolidate power to attack or oppress others. It is about expanding the feeling of belonging to the other and not preventing him from adopting his worldview.

There is one final point we need to emphasize about bridging: no matter how well-meaning we may be, trying to bridge differences often doesn't produce the results we'd hoped for, at least not initially. It is a deeply human process and we will often make mistakes along the way. It is important to remember to be compassionate with ourselves and others when we are faced with setbacks.

"You don't have to resolve every conflict," says Mendoza-Denton. "And you don't have to have all the answers."

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