September 9, 2015

Reducing Polarization, Tribalism, and Conflict

Culture of peace
Culture of peace1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Take a look at the world around you, and ask yourself this simple question: Would you like to see more polarization, tribalism, and conflict or less? If you compare the world as it is today with the world you would like to inhabit, does it have more of these things or less of them?

I suppose that some of you might prefer more polarization, tribalism, and conflict, but I'd guess that this would only apply to a tiny minority. For the purpose of this post, I'll assume that most of you would prefer to see less of this stuff if it was up to you. I'd certainly prefer to see much less of it. The question is what we can do about it.

The good news is that there are plenty of things each of us can do to reduce polarization, tribalism, and conflict in our lives. I'll list several of them below, but I think they can be summed up concisely with the following:
To reduce polarization, tribalism, and conflict, stop condemning those who hold views different from your own as morally inferior.
If we could each commit to doing that, regardless of whether anyone else joins us, we would be well on our way to changing our world for the better. But this is the rub, isn't it? Moving forward requires us to recognize that we will never be able to control how others behave. We cannot stop others from being assholes; we can only stop ourselves from being assholes.

With that in mind, here are some ideas for how we can each reduce polarization, tribalism, and conflict:
  1. Criticize bad ideas, regardless of their source, but focus on the ideas rather than impugning the characters of those who hold them.
  2. Seek to engage with others as individuals with unique views and not as representatives of various groups (e.g., liberals, gamers, feminists).
  3. Spend at least as much time listening as speaking; spend more time trying to understand others' perspectives than attempting to persuade them that yours is right.
  4. Seek opportunities to expose yourself to others who have different views from your own, and learn what you can from them.
  5. Recognize that you have been wrong before and remember that you will probably be wrong again.
  6. Remember that our views are often shaped by our experiences and that most people have had very different experiences from your own.
  7. When an interaction is clearly unproductive, walk away even if it means letting the other party have the last word.
  8. Ask yourself how you have personally contributed to the problem (i.e., polarization, tribalism, and/or conflict) and don't accept "I haven't" as a valid answer.
  9. Think about how much you have learned from your own mistakes, and grant others the right to be wrong.
  10. Be as critical of bad behavior by those within your tribe as you are of bad behavior by those outside your tribe.
  11. Refuse to participate in the more toxic aspects of outrage culture (e.g., online vigilantism and mob justice, constantly calling out everyone who says things you do not like).
As we make our way in this world as atheists, we don't have silly supernatural notions upon which to rely. We cannot do what we do because we have been promised some sort of heavenly reward or threatened with eternal torture. This should be liberating. It allows us to focus our actions around our desire to create the sort of world we'd like to have here and now.

If we are unhappy with the degree of polarization, tribalism, and conflict we see around us, we are free to act in such a way that will help to reduce it. We need not be passive bystanders in critiquing our society or culture; we can be active contributors. And yes, the place to start is with ourselves.
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