Bringing Society Together Politically




Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.   11-16

ABSTRACT:  Methods of achieving relative peace between societal groups that are different in class or culture are described.

KEY WORDS:  societal harmony, governmental gridlock, social differences, intergroup conflict, intrasociety conflict

Many societies have deep divisions within themselves, including the Western democracies.  The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign has been particularly revealing of this, since a large part (30-50%?) of the population (majority conservative) feel that the government, the country, and the other group (liberals) have ignored their economic needs and devalued their values and culture.  This has already been apparent in Congressional gridlock over the last five to ten years, but those ignored and devalued groups were willing to support an outsider presidential candidate who claimed to be able to “shake up” Washington and then actually won the election.

The liberals seem to be lost in their own cultural world, enjoying the latest fads and fashions (vegetarianism, cave man diets, haute couture, political correctness, preoccupation with oppressions of various kinds) and making money through electronics, social media, legal work, the various “professions,” and other relatively new activities, while isolated from the rest of society.  (Remember the jokes about the New Yorkers who had never traveled west of the Hudson and had no interest in doing so?)  Lower income conservatives (both Tea Party and working men) see liberals as smug, snooty, rich, vain, and fickle, while liberals see lower income conservatives as ignorant, violent, hopelessly traditional, and very willing to take government handouts.  Liberals have contempt for the lower classes, and lower income conservatives are angry about this devaluing.  This election campaign has brought this shockingly to the fore, and the media have milked it to the max, emphasizing the fight between the candidates much more than their proposed policies.  Liberals and conservatives have become cultural groups and not just people with different political preferences.  (The media’s focus on the candidates and not their policies is mostly the result of our arrangement regarding media—that media outlets fight for market share and therefore “must” present what the majority of the population will prefer to receive, rather than what would be most useful for effective citizenship.)

Clearly the gap is large.  The “liberal elite” lives in cities and takes advantage of the new informational and travel opportunities.  The lower income conservatives live in more rural milieus, on much less money and are often suspicious of people who are different, simply because they are different.  Many of the current income and job problems of lower income Americans are due to the globalization of the economy, with jobs tending to go overseas if there are lower paid workers there, and both political parties were fooled by the promise that this globalization would result in more net wealth for all countries, since it was not discussed that this greater net wealth would go mostly to those with greater income already, leaving the less wealthy with less wealth and fewer jobs to compete for.

There have been a number of books published in the last few years addressing this cultural divide, so we have pretty good descriptions of the problem and its roots, but we are short on ideas about what it would take for all factions to work together to make government as useful as possible, instead of acting out these culture wars in government.  Too many politicians have discovered that they can get voter support for re-election, largely from single-issue voters, by vowing to “fight” the other sides instead of compromising in order to do the best that government can do for society at the moment.

Much of the populist furor over Donald Trump’s candidacy would disappear if lower income conservatives had more jobs and a little more money, so one approach might be to “buy them off” through government grants or economic transfers, but this would exacerbate the shame felt by “working men” of not having a job.  Until we are ready to pay people not to work and have a positive ethic regarding doing that, it is better to uphold the dignity of work and its relevance to everyday life and survival.


In a democracy that “works,” the various parties must maintain some sort of positive or at least neutral relationship, so that they can work together effectively.  Our system has been essentially gridlocked for a decade, so that the complaints among citizens about the Congress doing nothing are just as frequent as complaints about Congress not doing what the complainant wants specifically.  Human conflict arises when we perceive our goals to be incompatible with the goals of others and when we treat each other poorly in the course of pursuing our own goals.  Therefore, improvement in our political processes should follow from realizing that since we are all human beings, our goals are not that dissimilar and from treating each other better as we each pursue our goals in life.  In this case, treating each other better means being more humane in our interactions with others in political interactions, as well as taking their goals to be just as legitimately important to them as ours are to us.

Our democracy is tending more and more toward a “winner take all” approach, in which the election victor tries to do things entirely his/her way until someone else is elected.  We envision our relationships as fighting each other—struggling to have things our way.  Since the two sides are fairly equal in popularity and strength, this leads inevitably to governmental gridlock, and it is also a recipe for an eventual strong-man takeover.  Sooner or later, one side will get tired of the seesaw power reversals and will scheme to take power for good.  This was seen already in Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to promise before the election to respect its results.

Our citizens must think carefully about whether they wish to hold out for getting their own way specifically or whether it is better overall to get what they can from compromises among all of the competing viewpoints on an issue.  Through compromises, each citizen and side will not get everything he/she/it wants, but they will get some sort of solutions to pressing problems instead of stalemate, and they will gain some feeling of comradeship with the total citizenry of the country, instead of feeling that everyone else is an enemy.

The relative civility in the past between those of different political views has given way to this fighting stance, each side striving to have its way without consideration for the views and needs of those on the other side.  This is partly due to the discovery by politicians that single-issue voters have more enthusiasm than more moderate or thoughtful voters and make it appear that the politician is more popular or strong than he/she really is.  It is also part of the natural evolution, through successful capitalism, of people coming more and more to think that they “should” be able to have their way.  Burger King promises that people can “have it your way,” and businesses in general work overtime to bring to consumers’ attention desires that they didn’t know they had, which gives the impression that need gratification is almost a right rather than a hope.  For the sake of the economy, our society accepts and promotes the idea that all desires can be satisfied, which voters translate as saying that they should be able to have their own way in government matters as well.

Another factor in this polarization is the “siloing” of society, in which we are having contact with more people than before the internet but having contact mostly with those who think like we do.  We find websites that echo and confirm our own frustrations and desires, rather than having some contact with all groups and sides so that we have a balanced picture of what the country consists of.  This causes us to think that “most people” think like we do and that we are a majority and “should” have our way.  We have become ignorant of the details of the lives of “the other half,” so that we now react to stereotypical images of most others, rather than to our observations about real people.

Finally, in the past elected officials on both sides could tell voters what they wanted to hear but among themselves in private could get acquainted with each other and work out compromises.  In this era of no secrets, no privacy, and maximum disclosure politicians are not free to work together on things for fear of offending the more rabid and single-issue voters.


Human beings are very dependent on each other and on being part of a group of humans.  Hermits do not create new civilizations, which evolve instead out of attitudes and needs that many members of a society share.  In order to have an orderly society, which promotes efficient achievement of joint goals, we must struggle to reach consensus (a large enough percentage of the group that everyone goes along with that percentage’s preferences) about a common language, shared social habits (how to greet, how to negotiate, how to show love, how to use disapproval to influence others, etc.), and rules prohibiting certain behaviors (murder, rape, insider trading).  To reach this consensus, we use various methods of influencing others to agree with us.  There are perhaps infinite variations of influence behaviors, but in type, there are only a few. 

·       forcing agreement through threats and violence,

·       buying agreement with money or favors,

·       gaining agreement by making the other person inferior (shaming,
humiliation) so that she gives up advocating for her viewpoint,

·       educating others so that they adopt our own view of their own

·       appealing to a shared characteristic (race, religion, etc.) that induces
the other person to join our view (whether or not he actually
agrees), and

·       accepting that others have a different view and finding behaviors
and rules that are adequately consistent with
both our own view
and that of others and that we can therefore all agree on

(We can also change our own view to be the same as others, either because we come to a different conclusion or because of others’ efforts to influence us.)

Some of these have negative consequences.  Forcing agreement and shaming the other person obviously harm others, either in taking away their sense of agency or in harming their self-esteem.  Buying agreement ignores the realities and consequences of the decision and makes it simply a transaction for gain.  Appealing to a shared characteristic also ignores the realities and consequences.  Educating others is constructive, and reaching compromise is the pinnacle of democratically sharing power and responsibility, since it acknowledges the power of both parties and forces both to articulate a position.  This essay describes a method of reaching compromises that acknowledges the power, personhood, and humanity of all parties and focuses on the realities and consequences of joint decisions (thus giving these decisions the greatest chance of having good consequences).  It may be useful to think about which methods you use to get what you want from others.


One concrete approach to rapprochement is to start serious, small group discussions between people of the various groups in hopes that understanding those who are different from oneself can lead to changing attitudes on all sides—i.e., understanding where someone else is “coming from” will lead one to learn about them and from them, thus resulting in the viewpoints of all sides both being more understanding and being more similar to each other than they were before.  A number of people have started these groups (combining Christians and atheists, Israelis and Palestinians, etc.), which usually have quite positive outcomes in terms of people coming away from them with much more understanding and seeing the people in the “other” group as being fully human and not particularly irrational.  Having this kind of group available to everyone would be a positive move.

Some churches welcome people who are different and make an effort to get to know them.  Quakers, for instance, try to live by their belief that “there is that of God in everyone.”  Unfortunately some churches, after the election, have become more exclusionary—the election having, in the views of some church members, legitimized old prejudices.

An appropriate goal for all human interactions is to have “good,” “positive” interactions—interactions in which both parties feel comfortable and safe (as a result of understanding each other and feeling treated appropriately by the other person) and in which the interaction enhances the welfare of both parties.  These interactions succeed through understanding and cooperation and result in minimum amounts of conflict and violence between people.

Human interactions turn negative when people are dishonest, reject being responsible, fail to be empathic, are not concerned about others, wish to be superior to others, insist that life be fair, insist that others be like them, fail to control their behavior, and lose sight of the principle of reciprocity.  Political interactions fail, then, if people do not tell the truth to the people they interact with, if they cannot be trusted, if they fail to take others’ needs into consideration, if they try to be “better than” or superior to others, if they insist that life be fair when that is unreasonable, if they assume that others should be like them and they try to force others to be like them, if people treat others  badly, and if they refuse to respond in kind to being treated well by others.

Working together cooperatively in government would flow naturally from having certain attitudes and behaving in certain ways toward everyone, including those who are “different.”

The most basic of these is that every person deserves to be seen as having basic value, just for being a live and functioning human being.  Everyone has this basic value—babies to old age, all genders and sexual orientations, all religions, all income levels.  This notion of basic value still leaves room for individual differences in wealth and overall value to others; there is no claim that all people must be equal to everyone else in all respects.

This basic value of everyone implies a basic equality as well, as embodied in the American ideal that everyone should be able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness (which is not possible if differences in opportunity become too large, due to disproportionate wealth or prejudice).  In this sense we are all equal (and all put on our pants one leg at a time).  We can view everyone as basically equal, if we are willing.

This concept of everyone having basic value could help us to expand our “in group” (the people that we care about and are willing to help) to include everyone in the country (or everyone in the world), which would help greatly to allow us to compromise—letting others get some of what they want while we get some of what we want.  We are much less willing to compromise with those whom we class as being in our “out group.”

It is tempting to assume that since our own views make so much sense to us, others “should” naturally agree with us.  A person’s views, though, are partly the product of his/her unique life experience and only partly the product of knowledge, so any two people will inevitably have somewhat different views.  This means that a political discussion cannot usefully be focused on getting another person to agree with our views, except perhaps through better agreement on the facts underlying a particular proposal.  The most useful political discussions take place in a context of accepting that we do have different views, so that we forget about trying to get the other person to agree with us and focus on understanding the other person’s views as a product of what he believes and what he has experienced.  When we understand this (where the person is “coming from”), we are more willing to enter into compromises that benefit everyone.

All human beings are naturally uneasy about people who are different from us, since we can’t predict their behavior reliably.  This makes it tempting to view them as inferior or as less human than we are.  It may help to think about those “different” others to realize that they have the same basic goals in life as we do—to be part of an accepting and supportive family, to find a loving partner, to have children, to work for a living, to raise children who are good people, to have enough to be able to feel comfortable in life, and to make some contribution to the community.  We may have been brought up to seek these goals in somewhat different ways, but we all seek them, so those people who are different are not basically different, only different in method.  (For more on this, see my essay on differences at

Basic value and equality lead directly to the everyday behavior of treating all persons with basic respect and courtesy.  This means that, at all times, we would do best to treat others respectfully and courteously, even when engaging in political discussions.  Every culture has its ways of showing basic respect (“How’s it going?”, “Salaam,” bowing to each other, shaking hands, not showing others the soles of one’s feet, etc.).  These behaviors all aim to calm our fears of each other by indicating willingness to allow the other person “to be” and to show that we do not have malicious intent. 

This basic respect should extend to everyone, even those we dislike or look down on for special reasons (murderers, rapists, abortionists, etc.), who are all people just as we are, all with good points and bad points and all seeking the same basic goals in life.  Treating others with respect and courtesy also exerts a “pull” for them to reciprocate, and this constant “training” of each other can make the world a much more pleasant place if practiced diligently.  This is easier if one already has a basically positive attitude toward other people, but you can do it on purpose, for the sake of creating a better world, even if you have your doubts about others.  You don’t have to like or even want something from others in order to treat them with at least basic respect and courtesy.

It is clear that treating others with whom we are engaged in talking about public issues with basic respect and courtesy will help us get more done than fighting will!  It should be practiced between citizens in their homes, elected officials in Congress, and career bureaucrats in their offices.  As noted above, we have been duped into believing that we can and should have everything the way we want it, and this is simply not true in the natural world, where we can get only some of what we want from nature.  Neither is it true in the social world, where we can only get some of what we want when the interests of other equals are involved.  The only way we can have everything our way in the social/governmental world is to subjugate others, and when we try this, we justify the process of subjugation by viewing others as being less human than we are or perhaps not even human (or devils or antichrists).  Some people in the U.S. would actually favor an authoritarian, repressive government, but so far, the majority want a democracy (or, actually in our case, a representative government).

The “fighting approach” leads generally to greater enmity and anger, and in the case of relatively equal opponents, it leads to governmental gridlock.  It should be impossible to dispute this when looking at the history of government in the U.S. over the last forty years, which is a history of more and more fighting and less and less willingness to compromise.  The only way fighting can result in a “win” is for one side to vanquish or subjugate the other.  (Is that what you really want to do to your fellow citizens?  I prefer getting what I need through cooperation and compromise.  You should think seriously about which approach you prefer.  Can fighting ever get you what you want?  Has it gotten you what you want so far?)

In some families, “respect” has come to mean admiration or obeying authority, but more basically respect is “allowing others to be,” recognizing potential value in others, and hoping that their lives will be good.  Every person does have potential value to us, with the right attitudes and in the right circumstances, and there is no reason to wish harm or bad for others, unless we wish to punish them or feel that we are being treated unfairly.  (We would have a better world if we would grant everyone basic respect but punish them in other ways than withholding respect.)  Courtesy is the behavioral framework that cultures develop to show respect and to demonstrate appropriate social behavior (such as men opening doors for women as a mark of respect, specifically appropriate for women as an indicator of a positive attitude and an indicator of willingness to take the woman’s needs into account).

Our willingness to treat everyone with respect and courtesy is often interfered with by false information, as when lies are perpetrated about the behavior of a group the other person is a part of (e.g., that Muslims want to have Sharia law in the U.S.).  Such falsehoods destroy our willingness to take an initially positive attitude toward those others.  Thus, truth in our information about others is crucial to social harmony.  (In this case, the problem is over-generalization.  There are probably a few Muslims in this country who would prefer to have Sharia law, but they are a tiny, tiny minority, with most Muslims being quite satisfied with Western law.)  We should all be careful about accepting information about other groups and people without due consideration.  Gossip poses the same hazards as internet hatred.  All media outlets in the last election at times gave out distorted information about the other sides, even those that were supposed to be neutral.

It helps to alleviate tension over differences if we view others as doing the best that they can all the time.  We assume that we do the best we can at all times, so we should be willing to assume this about others, at least until proven otherwise.  If others are doing the best they can, then we become more interested in understanding exactly why they see the issue the way they see it, if that is different from how we see it, which opens doors to greater understanding.

Viewing everyone as basic equals leads directly to treating everyone fairly.  Clearly, if we are all equal, then everyone of the same grouping should get the same treatment.

According others basic value and treating them as equals, fairly, and with respect and courtesy moderates another common quality of human beings—that of trying to get what we want by taking advantage of others.  Many people learn to do this in their families and continue it as adults, partly because we are not willing to live with what we can cause to happen by our own efforts, so we try to get more at the expense of others.  Trying to take advantage of others leads to distrust and anger and makes cooperation less likely.  Human beings are quite willing to take advantage of those in their out-groups, but if all citizens were in your in-group, you would be less inclined to take advantage of them.

We in this society have also lost some of our fellow-feeling for other citizens through our growing emphasis on “winning.”  Everyone wants to win and be a winner, because the alternative is shame and inferiority as a loser.  In the current election Mr. Trump has made it clear that he sees the world in terms of winners and losers.  (Mr. Trump’s tenacious determination to be a winner himself suggests that he knows how terrible it would feel to be a loser and so will fight tooth and nail to win regardless of the impact on other people.)  While government handouts do lessen the will of recipients to strive to become more self-sufficient, research shows that it is becoming less and less possible for people to rise in our social structure, because more wealth is flowing to those who already have wealth and less to everyone else, which keeps “losers” in their place forever.  In political negotiations, things go better if all take care to see that everyone “wins.”

It is natural for human beings to compete, since when young we have no concept of cooperation and think only of our own immediate needs, but when competing becomes a method of establishing superiority, it is socially destructive.  “Winning” and therefore thinking that we are better than others (because people who are better than others get more of available resources) is socially destructive and destroys willingness to cooperate.

To keep alive the American dream of rising through one’s own efforts, some redesign of how wealth is distributed will be necessary, and this is one place where the working class can and should have some empathy for minorities and others who are discriminated against on a daily basis in our society.  Both working people and minorities are losing out, in general, to those who already have wealth and can set the terms of contracts so that they continue get a disproportionate share.  (As an individual consumer you can’t bargain with a corporation about the price of a TV, and wages can only be bargained by larger groups of workers—hence the antipathy of business to unions.)  (The share the rich receive is disproportionate when understood in the context of the fact that successful capitalism inevitably eventually has this negative impact on society, with a greater proportion of wealth going to the rich, which causes class differences to become greater and greater.)  This effect justifies or should justify, some limits on or structure to how much various parties benefit from profits, since this could allow hard work and determination to once again provide a route to a better life.

As you can see, this program of changes depends on all of us being willing to take the welfare of all other citizens into account and to be willing to address the needs of all groups in the country.  Christians can relate to Jesus’ urging for us to be our “brother’s keeper,” and there are probably similar teachings in other positively-oriented religions.  The more we know about each other, and the more exposure we have to the problems of each group of citizens, the more willing we will be to view them as part of our in-group and to help them (expecting reciprocal help from them, too, of course).  If we continue to competitively ignore the needs of other groups in our society, our pattern of fighting among groups will continue and perhaps even get worse.  If you want to have government function better, you must start taking the needs of those who are different from you more seriously.  If you wish to continue fighting, you will build more anger and hatred, and you risk a revolution that could dissolve the republic!

Human beings are born with capacity for constructing and being in status hierarchies, and they learn very quickly in life that their parents have power over them and are of higher status.  It takes insight and determination to be part of a status hierarchy (we all are) while at the same time to accord everyone some irreducible status through having basic value simply as an existing human being.  Giving people this irreducible status also leads us to take the overall status hierarchy less seriously.  In many places, higher status is interpreted as “being better than” and “being inherently worth more,” and by giving everyone basic value, we reduce this incorrect interpretation of status.  People higher in the hierarchy may get a bigger share of the pie, but the rational explanation is that they have particular value (a rare skill, or greater skill at hunting, etc.) to the group, but this does not mean that beneath the skin, they are better or worth more.  We are too quick to measure status only by wealth.  (Higher status due to inherited wealth is an exception to the rational distribution of status suggested here, since many people with inherited wealth have no particular value for society.)

Attitudes and views of other people that promote cooperation and working together, even between those who are different, are—

·       viewing others as having basic value just for being human

·       viewing others as basic equals

·       treating others at all times with basic respect and courtesy

·       treating others fairly

·       accepting that we will inevitably have somewhat different views

·       dealing with differences by seeking understanding and being

·       stopping using fighting as the way to get one’s way, since fighting
simply leads to more fighting

·       assuming that others are doing the best they can, even when they
disagree with us

·       rejecting false information about others that appeals to our self-
interest or prejudices

·       not insisting on winning over others (or, alternatively, trying to help
everyone “win”)

·       stopping trying to get what we want by taking advantage of others

·       not taking status positions so seriously and not seeing status as
equivalent to personal worth

 (For more on these values, see my essay “The Solution To All Human Interactional Problems” on


1. More cooperation and compromise will occur if representatives of various geographic groups of Americans also take seriously doing what is best for the entire nation.  Doing what is best for the nation builds trust and greater willingness for representatives to compromise, because everyone is benefiting, and this cooperation promises more benefit for everyone in the future.  This is the opposite of trying to get the most for one’s own constituency at others’ expense.  (This must be balanced by the total group taking the differing needs of each group seriously and ensuring that the total group takes care of disadvantaged groups as needed.)

2. Make it an expectation that all speeches advocating for any position on an issue (in Congress, in the media, etc.) must include some discussion of both the pros and the cons of that position.  Any advocate should have to address the key flaws in his position and how those would be dealt with.  This would make advocacy more honest and would make us more humble regarding our ”perfect” solutions that we think are so much better than the other side’s solutions!

3. Make any advocate for a particular position or solution account for the expected impact of his/her solution on all groups in the country.  Does “trickle down” economics really benefit the poor, and how exactly does this happen?  Or is that just a myth?  Does “political correctness” really benefit the supposedly oppressed, or does it actually make them weaker?  In other words, go beyond gross images and present arguments for how things actually work in all their complexity.

4. Trust is built and the public benefited by minimizing the spoils system of filling all possible positions in government with those who agree with the President and instead making ability at least an equal consideration.  In all possible ways, the variety of opinions among the electorate should be represented in government at all times, regardless of who is in the White House.  Being elected should not mean striving to impose one’s views on the nation but as an opportunity to bring all needs to the table and attempt to fulfill as many as possible.

5. Select Supreme Court judges on their ability to be fair and objective, rather than on their agreement with one side or the other.  To fight to get a judge that leans your way is to acknowledge that that judge is biased.  Belief in law is based on a presumption of fairness, rather than bias.  A democracy needs unbiased judges and fairness for all (even though we know that being unbiased is a challenge for some judges in some cases).

6. Outlaw vote trading (I’ll vote for your bill if you vote for mine.) or make it unethical not to reveal such deals.  Make legislators vote for every bill on its merits.  Secret deals undermine trust.

7. Dismantle or redesign the committee system in Congress that keeps most proposed legislation from being voted on in Congress and that allows the side in power to suppress legislation supported by the other side.  All sides need access to potential governmental action.  If requiring a vote on all proposed legislation would mean that there would be more bills than elected officials could study adequately, then other solutions would be needed to help legislators understand every proposal (more staff, longer sessions, an objective legislative analyst, etc.).

8. Outlaw the practice of amending a bill with totally unrelated actions, which is a ploy used mainly to cause the original bill to be voted down.  Every legislative effort should get its own vote.  (The justification for this is that these practices always aim to benefit only a certain group of Americans and not the whole country.)


A future of groups with various political viewpoints working together for the good of the country is possible.  It would involve—

·       giving up fighting and viewing each other as enemies

       treating each other uniformly with respect and courtesy

·       viewing all decisions with an eye to the impact of those decisions on
every part of the citizenry

·       electing officials who favor getting things done, through
compromise if needed, rather than fighting

·       in some cases, elected officials doing what is best for the country
long-term instead of simply what is good for their own
constituencies in the short-term.

It should be obvious that we can accomplish more for everyone by compromising and moving forward than we can through gridlock.  Some elected officials simply like fighting, and they will have to sacrifice that pastime for the good of the country.  It should be obvious that if you want to work cooperatively, you must treat all parties with respect and courtesy, since this is what makes them willing to participate in give and take.  If we work together better and actually get more done, then it will be doubly important to make sure that all legislation is evaluated with respect to all of its impacts on all of the population.  In the spirit of cooperation, sometimes representatives will need to support legislation that does not benefit their own constituencies directly, assuming that other representatives will in the future support other legislation that does benefit their constituents directly.

This proposed program depends on changes among elected officials, but it would work even better if it were supported by the populace in general.  This would require an educational process that helps the entire populace get a glimpse of the lives of other groups who are different and whose lives are different due to geography, culture, and opportunity.  Perhaps foundations or the government itself could create these twenty or so videos that would be available through internet streaming to all of us.

Bear in mind that if a majority of legislators and other elected officials do not adopt these proposals, particularly treating “opponents” better and working to get all groups in the country the best deal rather than just their own group, government will continue to be deadlocked in a fight to the death.  We don’t want this fight to end in the death of the country!

Similarly, if voters elect officials who prefer fighting to compromise, then fighting and gridlock will continue.  Voters have control of this and must figure out which candidates will get the most done while in office and vote for those people.

Immigration is one of the factors that creates different interest groups in this country, and the larger the immigrant group, the more significant that group is in politics.  The more interest groups there are, the more difficult it is to please them all.  It is also agreed among psychologists whom I know that it takes more energy, on a daily basis, to deal with people who are different from us and whom we don’t understand.

People tend to prefer to be with people like themselves, so separations develop, with each group focusing on how it wants life to be.  If significant understanding of other groups is not present, this separation contributes to the adoption of fighting approaches to government and to eventual gridlock.  Therefore, it would avoid making things more difficult if immigrants became a part of the general U.S. culture rather than staying separate.  Immigrants should not be disadvantaged just because they are immigrants, but advocates of empowerment of immigrant cultures are advocating for political fighting on the basis of these disadvantages, and this fighting will only contribute to our government problem.  Immigrants should be treated with the same respect, courtesy, and fairness as everyone else, but perhaps immigrants should be screened for immigration in accord with their willingness to become a part of the general culture instead of expecting to stay separate and to have their own cultural enclave within the U.S.

These factors suggest that the country could more easily run smoothly if immigrant groups joined or melted into the general culture of the country.  There has been a vocal movement in this country to idealize immigrant cultures, and to act as if they should flourish within this country just as they were in their previous locations, but this is to ignore the difficulties that arise when significantly different cultures occupy the same territory.  I know of no example on earth where major cultural groups have occupied the same territory with cooperation and peace.  Even the French minority in Canada creates governmental problems.  Those who believe this is possible should give examples, rather than simply claiming that this coexistence is possible.


You may wonder how exactly to relate in a positive and civil way with a person who has beliefs contrary to yours or behaves in a way that you find offensive.  To be prepared to do this comfortably, you must already have practiced the attitudes described above—

·       viewing others as having basic value and as being basic equals,

·       treating others fairly and with respect, courtesy, and attention to
their needs,

·       believing that the other person has a right to his opinions and that
he has reasons for why he believes the way he does,

·       approaching others with a sincere desire to understand and
therefore to get along better with the other person,

·       viewing the other person as a fully human being, despite
weaknesses or behaviors that you don’t like.

To get past seeing the other person in terms of what you dislike, practice seeing that person in terms of her potential to be a good citizen and to make good decisions, given the right frame of mind and correct information about the world.  You may be able to give her important new information by what you reveal about yourself and how you reveal it, since you also have good reasons (in your own framework) for believing what you do.  Instead of feeling dislike or being offended, focus on understanding why she is the way she is.  Human beings are infinitely interesting to each other, since we are all so dependent on each other and since we all have basically the same goals in life.

Spend your time finding out about the other person, rather than trying to put forth your own positions.  Ask questions rather than making statements.  At this point, you don’t know enough about the other person to make any conclusions or summary statements.  Ask about his background and what it was like for him growing up.  Ask about what he wanted to be when he grew up and how that changed over time.  Ask about his job and how he sees himself being treated by the overall economic system.  Ask about how he would like the country to be in the future and what would help it to get there.  Ask about how he views other citizens and how he feels about them.  Ask about his experience with those who are different from him.  Don’t respond, criticize, or comment about his answers.  Your job is to understand, not to evaluate or oppose.  (Voting is where you get your chance to oppose.)  Your morals do not require you to criticize someone else every time he says something you don’t agree with.

You will see in this process some reasons why the other person believes as he does.  How we perceive and feel about how we have been treated, by our parents, our teachers, our employers, our elected officials, and our extended family, are primary forces in making the world seem as it does to us (which is not how the world “really” is, which is why we all have different views of the world).  Focus on how his beliefs “make sense” given his view of others and how he has been treated.  Again, there is no need at this point to express anything you think or feel.

Now, to share similar information about yourself with the other person, treat it as just information.  It does not need to be a justification of your beliefs.  In fact, as you share those kinds of things, you may wonder yourself why you believe what you believe!

If the other person is challenging or critical while you do this, you need not walk away immediately.  If you don’t feel threatened (if you are not ashamed or guilty about who you are and how you got there), there is no need to feel shamed or give up.  Stick with information, not justification, and certainly not counterattack.  Calm self-acceptance (being OK with yourself, not boasting) will calm the other person and promote an atmosphere of exploration rather than fighting.  You must want to explore and understand more than you want the other person to change.  This getting acquainted process takes time, and both parties must be willing to invest the needed time.  That commitment itself signals an interest in the other party that is rare these days.

After equal sharing, you may now wish to explore how the other person’s life information relates to her political opinions–e.g., “How do you think your problems finding good jobs relates to how you choose who to vote for?”  Above all, do not be defensive about yourself or critical of the other person.  Your own views make so much sense to you that it is tempting to jump ahead to “How could you possibly believe that?” kinds of questions, but this is tempting only when you can’t imagine how anyone could possibly believe those things.  The fact that the other person does believe those things means that you should expand your horizons and figure out why the other person believes those things.  Expressions of understanding can aid in this process, such as “I see how what you’ve experience in life would lead you to see politicians in the way you do.” 

Once you see how a person’s life experience is consistent with her opinions, you won’t need to ask such challenging questions.  A person’s preferences for an authoritarian president or a more democratic president and her choice for unbridled capitalism or a more managed economy all stem from her experiences and how she sees the world.  In understanding the views of another person who is different from ourselves, a step forward is to question if our own choices in these matters would really benefit everyone or just our own group of people.

It is a common error to assume that if you understand someone else’s view then you have to adopt that view or give in to that view.  You may wish to reconsider some of your views, given your new understanding of how people form their views, but you are not obligated to reconcile your views with those of others.  You can stand up for your beliefs and views and for their behavioral implications while at the same time understanding why someone else has different beliefs and views, by feeling legitimately confident in your beliefs and views and wanting to ensure that those beliefs and views are represented in the mélange of ideas that determine a society’s position on them. 

Put forth your views calmly and illustrate what you believe would be the consequences for society if they were widespread.  All views have equal legitimacy as personal views, but each view will have different consequences.  Politics is not concerned with what is true as much as it is with what is possible.  Most societal decisions are made without anyone knowing exactly what their results will be, but we must try our best to predict those consequences, and expressing what you believe will happen, and why, will assist with this group process.

Speaking more loudly or forcefully does not give your views any more weight, nor does calling others names or saying negative things about them.  In our democracy your views have no more of a say (one man, one vote) than those of others, and if you try to force your views on others, it means that you don’t really believe in democracy or the basic equality of all citizens, and it results in you being viewed as a bully or a tyrant.

In fact, using methods that attempt to irresponsibly force others to go along with our views should be considered immoral.  This includes appeals to superiority/inferiority (you should go along with my view because I have more status than you), threats of potential violence or other harm (if you don’t go along with my view, I might hurt you), trying to humiliate the other person so she will give up, and domination by speaking more loudly or using body language to dominate the other person.  These methods may result in apparent agreement, but they totally disrespect the other person, which will result long-term in resentment and quite likely in eventual betrayal.

If one believes in basic equality as an essential element of social equilibrium and comfort, then one sees the other person’s views as having equal legitimacy with one’s own, until proven otherwise through finding errors in facts or in logic or exposing dominance ploys.  Doing this requires calm exploration or those underlying factual assumptions and the reasons why the person sees things as he does in terms of his background and life experiences.  Of course, if one’s purpose is to get one’s way regardless of how that affects others, then one will continue to use immoral influence methods (which are immoral because they violate the other person’s basic equality and are used to try to take advantage of him).  (I am suggesting that any act that harms others for one’s own benefit be considered immoral, whether it is legal or not and regardless of whether it is permitted by a church.) 


It should be clear by now that discussions of societal and political issues would be more useful if people approached them with a genuine intent to understand the basis for the other person’s or sides’ opinion, rather than to convince them of the error of their ways.  To foster trust, each person would also focus on explaining his position, not just advocating for it as if its truth or usefulness were already established.  It would also help us make better decisions if every public statement regarding pending decisions, written or oral, were required to address, in the same speech or written piece, the weaknesses of the position being advocated.  It would help public discourse if publishers (newspapers, etc.) adopted this as a requirement.  It takes humility to follow these suggestions, but they are guaranteed to produce more useful discussion than the process of arguing, which usually escalates into shouting or near-shouting and results in anger and greater alienation.  Human beings influence each other all the time, and this is normal, but our society right now needs ways to find common ground and to create legislation through compromise rather than fighting.

Discussions of competing views would be more useful if both parties committed themselves to finding the truth (as near as possible) rather than simply to getting their own way.  This would be greatly enhanced by both parties identifying and addressing the weak points in their own arguments.  You might shrink from doing this because you see (correctly) that this would take some of the force out of your argument, but if both parties do this, it would create a much greater possibility of finding what common ground the parties might have, which could then be a basis for joint action, thus avoiding stalemate and gridlock.  We usually assume that the other side will point out our weaknesses in their rejoinders, but doing so ourselves would be more honest and would give the other party evidence of our good will in trying to find ways to create mutual benefit.  Every proposal has some negative impacts on someone, and to ignore this for the sake of what we want to get is insulting to those who will be harmed and makes them distrust and dislike us.  Here are some examples.

Particularly in the last twenty years, there has been an escalation of exaggerated language in political discourse.  Advocates of equality for all have started calling every instance of inequality or unfairness “oppression,” which is a misleading and provocative exaggeration, just as anti-abortion advocates call every abortion “baby-killing,” which is not correct.  These exaggerations are resorted to in an effort to “win” the argument by overwhelming the opposition, but people who believe these oversimplifications and those who are unthinkingly influenced by such tactics are then in a worse position when it comes to policy-making, since they are not in possession of the correct facts.

Slavery and making those of a particular religion second-class citizens are oppression.  Micro-aggressions (most often references to those of a minority group using outdated language or phrasing, sometimes unintentionally) and upholding public order laws are not oppression.  Police keeping public order, with both individuals and groups, with reasonable restraint and according to the law, is not oppression.  Abortions in the first month of pregnancy, when what is in the womb is an undifferentiated mass of cells with no recognizable human parts, is not baby-killing, since there is no recognizable baby.  An undifferentiated mass of cells in the beginning stages of organization is not a baby, even though it may later become a baby.  The results of these exaggerations are to push people farther apart and make it harder to create the best public policy possible.   

A proposal should be a complete proposal.  Stating only one side of it is misleading and dishonest.  (In this sense, formal debate rules, with opposing sides, create dishonesty.  This, applied in our adversarial judicial system, is the source of the disdain most people have for lawyers, because in giving their clients a “vigorous” defense, they purposely distort the truth by claiming one possible version of the truth to be the actual truth.  This may be good for clients, but it is not good for the truth.)  In order to move toward the best policy decisions possible (in which neither side gets its way entirely), every proposal and advocacy should address its weaknesses as well as its hopes.

Advocates for large-scale responses to climate change should not only say what they think is needed in terms of societal responses but should also, in the same speech or written piece, (1) acknowledge that climate change is not scientifically proven but is science’s best guess for an explanation of observed data regarding global weather conditions and (2) describe the negative economic impact that their proposed responses would have on citizens.  It is false to claim that fossil fuel use can be eliminated completely and replaced with wind, solar, and tide power, and doing so would lower the standard of living of our society, at least for decades.  The key question is how much lower, and this should be addressed.  If you want people to give up parts of their lives, you owe it to them to say how much it’s going to cost them.  It’s essential to know what we will have to give up, so we can balance that against the chance that climate change is less serious than currently thought.  We need to envision the catastrophic consequences of not doing all we can to minimize climate change, if it is as serious as currently thought, so that we can judge that against what we will have to give up in order to minimize climate change.

Advocates questioning climate change should acknowledge that there is a strong consensus among scientists that significant contributions by human beings to global warming seem like the best explanation for accumulated weather data, even though that does not prove conclusively that the contribution of human beings is significant.  (Every time we burn something as a fuel (a campfire, a car), it creates heat and therefore contributes to warming the planet by a tiny bit, so it is false to claim that in burning your little bit of fuel, you are not affecting anything.  And, now that there are 3 billion people on the planet, those tiny bits add up to be quite a lot of heat.)  Advocates questioning climate change should also describe when arguing their case what is likely to happen if mankind does nothing to try to minimize global temperature increases and what their personal responses would be if they discovered down the road that they had been totally wrong.  Would they then share their wealth with their fellow citizens, as recompense for being wrong?  We do not customarily hold people accountable for outcomes that they could not reasonably be expected to predict, but if those predictions are made for self-serving motives rather than from an honest and objective assessment of the data, then perhaps those persons should bear some responsibility.  If we held a referendum on some dramatic responses to climate change, and all who voted also signed a contract that if their predictions turned out to be wrong, they would pay a certain amount to those who voted oppositely, for their losses, then the rhetoric level would be considerably lower!

Advocates of lenient immigration policies and having a multicultural society should acknowledge the negative impacts on society of large numbers of immigrants, even when they are speaking only to those who want a multicultural society.  For example, running a multicultural society is more costly than a monoculture (printing all government documents in multiple languages, providing translators in all public services, providing education in multiple languages), and without an increase in the actual total wealth of a society, having more persons competing for the same number of jobs will result in some non-immigrants being unable to find jobs.  The businesses that immigrants start may be of some value to society, but they do not increase the total wealth of society but rather split it up into smaller pieces for everyone.  Unless there are new resources provided by new immigrant businesses, the money spent in immigrant businesses is money not being spent in non-immigrant businesses.

Advocates for fewer regulations for businesses should list, in the same speech or article, the negative actions that some businesses are likely to take without the eliminated regulation (more pollution, poorer quality control, more food-borne illnesses, less customer service, higher prices), and explain what should be done, if anything, about those negative actions.  Since we know from experience that the vast majority of business persons are motivated more by profit and success than they are by doing the right thing for the populace as a whole, it would be absurd to claim that these negative results would not happen. 

Advocates for free-market conditions should explain what happens to those who can’t compete in a totally free market or are not protected by law and what, if anything they would do about those citizens.  Advocates for lower taxes should acknowledge openly that the history of lowering taxes to stimulate economic growth are very mixed and should explain what they would do about it if their predictions are wrong.  (Would they offer to pay double taxes themselves for five years if they were wrong?)  Advocates of deregulation should acknowledge the many times that deregulation results in higher costs to consumers rather than lower costs (as they always promise) and should say what should be done if their predictions are wrong.  Advocates for globalization of business should acknowledge that some workers are harmed by globalization and say what they think society should do about that. 

Advocates for expanding welfare (public monies given to the disadvantaged) should explain what that does to the self-esteem of recipients and how that process will or will not result in motivating recipients to gain employment (since many receiving such monies are then better off than they would be if they entered the job market at minimum wage).  Advocates against welfare should explain what should be done about those who “can’t” find jobs.  Would that include letting them starve, debtors prisons, or hard labor?

Advocates for conservative policies, which fit less populated areas better than they do urban areas, should explain why the negative impacts of their policies on urban centers should be tolerated for the sake of slower growth and slower societal change (which is the main emotional motivation for conservative policies).  (Conservative politicians who advocate slower societal change and also more freedoms for businesses are hypocrites, since more economic growth always brings faster change.)  Advocates for liberal policies, which fit urban centers better than they do rural areas, should have to explain why rural areas should be subjected to faster societal change for the sake of certain benefits to urban areas. 

Advocates for acceptance of transgender persons in society should explain why the benefits of such acceptance outweigh the greater confusion that many citizens would feel about their own gender identity that would result from having more choices.  Advocates against acceptance of transgender persons should explain what transgender persons should do (commit suicide, move to Timbuktu, take antidepressants) since being transgender is not a choice, even if it can be largely hidden from society in general.

Advocates for freedom to express religion in daily life should explain why the benefits of that outweigh the resulting disruptions to the life of society caused by those expressions of religion (Muslim workers having several paid prayer periods during the day; women who want contraception services having to make additional special arrangements for those because a business owner doesn’t want to pay for them on religious grounds; gay or transgender persons or persons of a “foreign” religion refused services in public businesses on the basis of the business owners religious views).  Advocates of acceptance of greater diversity in various respects should explain why those who disagree on religious grounds should have to live with and to some extent pay for that greater diversity. 

This attitude of seeing the whole truth about one’s proposals is applicable to all speeches and writings, to dyadic discussions, and to group discussions.  It would also be useful to do this while formulating one’s own opinions and proposals–to include all of the impacts on all other groups of people—i.e., make this a habit of thought.  This would cut down on the number of poorly thought out proposals that we all have to listen to before the proponent admits to its problems!

The point here is that we should all be honest about how we impact other citizens.  As noted above, every change benefits some but negatively affects others, either materially or psychologically or both.  If we want some change in procedures or laws, we should be honest about how it will help us but harm some others.  Consider adding to your repertoire of persuasion this concept of acknowledging the mixed results (positive and negative) of every position you take, and you will help to build more trust in society and greater willingness to work together for the greater good.  You automatically think of the problems with other people’s views, so why not start the habit of always checking out the problems with your own views?

Acknowledging that all of your positions have some negative consequences for someone might suggest to some just giving up trying to have positions at all, since having relatively good positions would require trying to determine the complete reality of things, which is difficult and is always more complicated than we think in advance.  Welcome to the real world!  If you want the best decisions and you want a democratic type of government, then you must work harder to understand enough about daily realities (zoning, environmental legislation, welfare, etc.) and about your fellow citizens to enable you to come up with and express the best positions you can.  We are always in the position of not being certain of all of the consequences of our group decisions, but we must still try.  Realizing that we don’t know very much for certain should make it more possible for us to be appropriately humble about what we think we know!


The process described here does not imply that all views are equally true or useful, only that understanding another’s views is key to understanding why that person has those views.  Going through the process of understanding the views of another does not require taking the further step of evaluating them, but every view can be evaluated on various criteria in an effort to estimate its usefulness.  The key questions regarding a view are (1) whether is it consistent with reality or based on false beliefs, and (2) what all of its consequences would be if that view determined our law and/or governmental actions.  Since these “views” are often vague or idealistic, it will take some work to figure out just what a view’s underlying assumptions and beliefs are, but once they are exposed, its truth value and consequences can be determined, to the best of our ability (which means that we often cannot be sure about our facts or about the consequences of our governmental actions).   

If you choose to evaluate the truth value and consequences of a view, the same procedures apply.  Stay calm and focus on the views, rather than simply expressing your feelings about them and trying to change the other person.  Be respectful, courteous, and fair.  Approach the discussion with the assumption that the view could be “more right” than your own view, and be willing to change your view if that is your conclusion!  Disagree outwardly with the view under discussion only on the basis of what the two of you can agree on as facts, not on the basis of what you believe but the other person does not.  Establish this shared agreement on the facts involved before you question the view based on the facts.  If you cannot agree on the facts, then you will accomplish nothing beyond leaving with a greater understanding of the other person and perhaps giving both of you some reason to go away and question your understanding of the facts.

If you can establish a shared agreement on the facts, then you can think together about whether the view under discussion is consistent with those facts.  Evaluating all of the consequences of a view is even more tricky, since it is very difficult to predict the future, especially with regard to complex political questions.  Again, you can think together about whether your predictions are reasonable, but in the end you will probably still have your own two different versions of many of the consequences, and you will no doubt finish up this evaluation process privately.

The main purpose of this proposed procedure is to use greater understanding to induce a greater willingness to compromise.  It is not necessary to agree on differing views in order to be willing to work together, to craft legislation or to accomplish any other project of mutual interest and benefit.  Seeing the other person as fully human and with his/her own views and individual needs makes it more possible to work together and to ensure that everyone and every side gets something positive out of the results of working together.  As an example, it has been possible for persons on both sides of the abortion issue to agree on some legislation.  They do not agree in their views, but good will and concern for the country allowed them to agree on certain rules about demonstrations at sites where abortions took place.

It is key for this process that you maintain your positive attitudes toward others, your basic equality with them, and the value of treating them with respect, courtesy, and fairness, and that you believe that this method has the greatest chance of fostering understanding among people and therefore of fostering willingness to work together to find the best compromises possible.  Treating people in this way shows that you believe in their potential to consider the needs of others and “do the right thing,” eventually.

(A book with similar ideas is Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy:  The Courage To Create A Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2011.  Another is On Dialogue by David Bohm ISBN-13: 978-0415336413,   ISBN-10: 0415336414.)