If polarization is all around us, familiar as an old coat, what about its opposite? What would depolarization look and sound like? Would we know it if we saw it, in others or in ourselves? Perhaps most importantly, what are the mental habits that encourage it?
We Americans didn’t necessarily think our way into political polarization, but we’ll likely have to think our way out.
1. Criticize from within.
In other words, criticize the other—whether person, group, or society—on the basis of something you have in common.
2. Look for goods in conflict.
Some conflicts are entirely about good versus evil or right versus wrong, but many (probably most) are more about good versus good or right versus right. Each side, at least in part, is likely to be defending a goal or value that both recognize as worthy.
3. Count higher than two.
Of all the mental habits that encourage polarization, the most dangerous is probably binary thinking—the tendency to divide everything into two mutually antagonistic categories.
Doubt—the concern that my views may not be entirely correct—is the true friend of wisdom and (along with empathy, to which it’s related) the greatest enemy of polarization.
Because generalization is both an ally and a frequent indicator of polarization, highly depolarizing people tend to be connoisseurs of the specific. … persistent skepticism about categories … consider each issue separately and on its own terms … privilege the specific assertion (including the empirically valid generalization) over the general assertion … rely first and foremost on inductive reasoning, which tries to build conclusions from the bottom up by accumulating specific data points, as compared to deductive reasoning, which tries to build conclusions from the top down by exploring the implications of true general premises or statements.
6. Qualify (in most cases).
To qualify something you say is to make it less definitive, less comprehensive, and more nuanced, and thus to acknowledge the possibility that some pieces of the puzzle may still be missing. … To qualify is to demonstrate competence.
7. Keep the conversation going.
Because ending the conversation is tantamount to ending the relationship, and when the relationship ends, everything hardens, polarization reigns, and your opponents turn into your enemies.