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Four ways to kick the polarized partisan habit

This great little list of tips by Laura Chasin, founder of The Public Conversations Project, appeared here on the Christian Science Monitor website around January 14, 2011 in response to the shooting in Tucson, Arizona. This article is part of a series of articles on civility at www.csmonitor.com/Topics/civility.

Four ways to kick the polarized partisan habit

President Obama, at the Jan. 12 memorial for victims of the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz, urged the nation to move beyond finger-pointing to healing, constructive conversation. How do you do that? Laura Chasin, founder of The Public Conversations Project, an organization that helps individuals, organizations, and communities converse constructively on issues of conflict, offers pointers for breaking the argument habit.

1. Be aware of polarizing language

  • Develop the courage and savvy to overcome the seductions of polarizing language. Ask anyone who uses sweeping generalizations to cite some specifics they’re referring to.
  • Refuse to ask or answer rhetorical questions.
  • Be as dedicated a citizen as you are a consumer: Spend as much time shopping for candidates – and exploring issues – as you do exploring the mall.

2. Fight for Technicolor

  • Don’t reduce everyone and everything to black and white. Stand up for the multicolored reality of yourself and others.
  • Listen to your internal dialogue in thinking about people who disagree with you. Have you developed mental habits that narrow the spectrum you see?

3. Build bridges

  • Have a conversation with someone who thinks differently from you. Seek only to understand and to be understood rather than persuade.
  • Don’t assume – ask.
  • Express your views so they become sources of contact and learning, rather than antagonism. Avoid words likely to raise your listener’s defenses.

4. Spread the word

  • Bring people together who think differently about an important issue. Support others’ efforts to resist polarization and identify shared concerns and goals.

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