I think the most important thing for people to learn in this day and age, to stop the downward spiral of extreme polarization, is how to make people a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. It’s easy to play the blame game, but if we change the way we talk to one another we’ll be more likely to come together and solve these issues that face us today.
Along with that, we need to learn how to *validate* one another. Let me give an example from the pro-life vs. pro-choice divide. A pro-choice person would have concerns that:
1) They don’t want a choice to be forced on them. Only under the most compelling circumstances (like being in the third trimester) would they accept not having the choice to abort a baby.
2) They don’t trust those in the pro-life camp to understand and *empathize with* their needs, whether emotional, financial, or otherwise, and how they contribute to making the decision to have an abortion.
3) They don’t trust those in the pro-life camp not to try to legislate abortion out of the financial availability of those who would otherwise want to make use of it.
A pro-life person would have concerns that:
1) For those who elect to have an abortion, they had a choice not to get pregnant in the first place. (But this isn’t necessarily true across the board.)
2) Abortion for some is merely a symptom of irresponsible behavior in general.
3) The decision to have an abortion is a decision to take a life, no matter how you look at it. It’s not a decision to be made lightly.
The problem comes when a person who is pro-choice can only see *their* concerns, and not the concerns of a person who is pro-life. When a person who is pro-life (Mitt Romney, I hope you’re paying attention!) can only see *their* concerns. No matter which side of the divide we stand on, we want to be able to hear and validate the other side’s concerns as being legitimate. Moreover, we want to be very, VERY careful not to make sweeping generalizations about the “other side.” If we’re going to judge one another at all, then we want to do it on the basis of personal interaction, on an individual basis.
If we can get these two things straightened out—making people a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem, and being able to validate another’s viewpoint—then we’ll really get somewhere.