As I read and listen to the news, I get more and more worried about the increasing polarization of our society. People seem to love or hate much more than ever. From the national stage, I am amazed how so many people are vigorous supporters of one candidate, yet others express the same vigor with dislike for that candidate. Even recent discussions in our own state’s legislative branches demonstrate significant polarization. I just heard a legislator on the radio say that his caucus is very set on an issue that surveys show is against the will of the people in the state. Even in my own community, we have polarization on too many issues.
I realize that news folk seek out responses from both ends of the spectrum on issues, but as I listen to talk shows or reports from the street, it seems to me that so many people have tunnel vision only looking at one aspect of an issue and not seeing the big picture. Of course, some of the people who are put on camera appear to be missing something…, but so are people who look at a mountain and can only see a rock.
Those that know me can attest that I am far from Milquetoast on many matters that are important to me. Really, I have the ability to express some passion. But, I ask myself, what the heck is wrong with seeing all sides of an issue…the good, bad and the in-between? When did we start to become a society of people who wear blinders?
Of course, our connectedness through social media has arguably been a part of pulling us further apart. We now have so many forums for us to hold personal court. Don’t get me wrong, I participate moderately in social media functions. One of my favorite aspects of social media isn’t reading the idea that is expressed initially, it is digging into the many responses to the idea that is originally posted. Every once in a while I actually see someone demonstrate some thinking and regard for what is expressed by others. It still strikes me that so many people are much more interested in expressing their opinions first rather than trying to learn the opinions of others. (My favorite Covey quote: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” comes to mind here!)
I am blessed to work in a great profession where there is a significant proportion of reasonable people compared to the rest of the world. I will say though that even in education, we have those who are quick to judge. The silent majority still rules in the end, but so many times the path is fraught with frustration. More often than not, I am heartened to see people disagree AND understand and respect the opinions of those with which they disagree. I really do love school people!
As a leader, I have found that getting to the point where the middle ground can be found on significant issues usually comes when we work deeply with BELIEFS. Determining the best questions to wrestle with and facilitating a conversation where others are learning, reading and discovering all perspectives before cementing their own opinions often leads to products that are best for students and teachers.
Ask yourself when the last time was that you had a thorough conversation at the beliefs level with your colleagues. If you are a leader, when is the last time you facilitated such a conversation?
If we want to bring people together, we must focus on developing shared beliefs. We need to ask questions of significance that are difficult to answer; and we need to give people time to digest the thoughts and opinions of others. In our ever increasing world of polarization, now more than ever we need to have a firm understanding of how to build consensus through developing shared beliefs
By the way, if you don’t want to bring people together, please don’t lead anything. We already have too much of that in our world and we don’t need anymore.