After a brief exchange between my cousin Steve (a conservative) and me (not a conservative), it became clear to me that what was missing in the current political environment is clarity about the goals and values held by the people in power and the people who elect them. Do goals and values clash? If they do, what can we do about that? If they are aligned how can we come together to find the right means to achieve them?
"I hope that rational thinking, honesty, compassion and loving kindness prevail so that the dangerous and disheartening divide in the country and world will be replaced by a common movement towards compromise and collaboration."
"Although we basically agreed years ago to have different thoughts on some of what goes on in our worlds--I totally agree with your comment about rational thinking to help heal the divide in our country with a movement toward compromise and collaboration!!"
Of course, we might disagree about what we mean by rational thinking and about how much compromise is possible without violating deeply held values. But at least there is a start towards dialog and possible reconciliation.
What Is Rational Thinking
Steve and I agreed about the need for "rational thinking to help heal the divide in our country with a movement toward compromise and collaboration!!"
So, what is rational thinking? I'm sure the definition changes from person to person. For me, rational thinking boils down to
- Mental models, beliefs and assumptions drive current thinking and behavior. It is possible to question even the most deeply held beliefs and to change one's mind.
- Everything is subject to continuous change. Nothing is permanent.
- We do not have total control. "You can't control the ocean but you can learn to surf". We cannot predict the future with 100% accuracy. Though, we can interpret trends and we can have some influence on how things turn out.
- Everything is in a process within an open system of interacting objects. Every action has a ripple effect. Everything is caused by something. Change the cause and the outcome changes.
- Kindness and compassion matter. We are social animals who thrive when everyone thrives. Self-interest without consciousness of the way others are effected by one's actions is destructive.
Compromise and Collaboration
Steve and I agreed that compromise and collaboration were worthy goals. These two go hand in hand. When parties to a dispute work together they can often find ways to satisfy their objectives. They turn a zero sum (win or lose) game into a collaborative game in which, as much as possible, everyone wins. The people involved team up against the conflict rather than taking sides against one another.
Compromise and collaboration require common goals, values and objectives. The Evaporating Cloud technique for conflict resolution is a good example of how a collaborative approach works.
The technique is based on the ideas that 1) every problem is a conflict, 2) that conflicts usually exist because of erroneous assumptions and 3) that we can "think conflicts away". They evaporate like clouds when the thinking does away with unfounded assumptions and focuses on common goals. Here is a brief description of the Evaporating Cloud technique.
Start with the identification of the story line behind the problem. Who are the players? What are the history and context? What is at stake? What kind of problem is it?
Explore assumptions by asking questions like "What do I want to do?" "What do they want to do?" "Why do we want to do what we want to do?" "What are our needs, wants and objectives?" "Why does what they want to do bother me?" "What assumptions am I making about what I really need vs. what I want, the effectiveness of my solution and the flaws in the other sides assumptions."
Explore alternatives - "What other ways are there to make sure we meet our needs, get as many of our wants as possible and accomplish our objectives?"
Working this way, many conflicts can be resolved by discovering common objectives and finding ways to meet the needs of all sides.
Values influence our ability to collaborate and compromise. If values clash and they are not reconciled, effective collaboration and compromise become impossible.
For example, one side may value the right to own slaves and the other side may value the intrinsic worth of each individual and their freedom. As long as the clash in values exists there is no room for compromise and therefor working together becomes strained if not impossible.
No Compromise - Zero Sum Game
When there are those who are unwilling to compromise, who take an "It's our way or the highway" stance, ultimately, force (e.g., laws that require slavery to either end or that permit it) is required to resolve the issue. Of course, we have seen this in the U.S. Civil War and the more recent civil rights movements.
Anti-government thinkers want the government out of people's lives. Others want state rights to supersede federal rights. Values clashes such as environmental protection, immigration, discrimination based on race, religion or gender preference, abortion rights, gun control, use of marijuana and other hallucinogens, are rolled up into the conflict between individual rights, states' rights and the role of a federal government.
Radical Islam wants to conquer the world and believes that non-believers should be converted or killed. Strident anti-Israeli and anti-Palestinian partisans create a zero sum game between one another. Right to life advocates seek to eliminate the right to choose and a few are willing to kill to get their way. Influential, powerful individuals believe that they have the right to do anything they think is right, regardless of the law. Unfortunately, the examples go on and on.
There is an impasse when those who hold to ideologies that insist that others' thinking and behavior is evil when, in fact, it harms no one. For example, same gender marriage, diversity that mixes races and religions, the acceptance of various religious beliefs.
When others are harmed, does the government have the duty to step in? Do people have the duty to protest and, in the extreme, rebel? Where would slavery and Jim Crow be if left to the states? Where would the right to legal abortion be? Where would legal marijuana be if left to the federal government?
What about when the ecology is threatened? Do the rights of owners of oil resources and industry give way to government regulation of emissions and support of alternative fuels? Do coal barons and coal mine workers deserve government support to keep coal mines in business?
Rational thinking, collaboration and compromise are keys to finding a way forward that satisfies the needs of as many people as possible. Bringing these three together enables the discovery of new ways to discuss the issues and find solutions that are above the close-minded adherents to "isms." We need to move from politics to "unitics."
Environmental concerns need not focus on the belief in global warming. Instead the focus can be on how infrastructure can be made to protect against physical decline and flooding and regulations can address air, water and food pollution. The Dutch may have argued about the cause of coastal flooding, but in the end they built dikes. The choice between breathable air and oil company profits seems clear.
Government regulation issues need not focus on the struggle between socialism and capitalism. Instead the focus can be on whether such regulation is a rational and practical means for addressing historical problems like unregulated financial institutions that fail or cheat the public, or air and water pollution caused by unregulated companies and municipalities that dump toxic waste into rivers and landfills.
Let's hope that people will explore their assumptions, beliefs and values, and look past their
own personal gain in the immediate present to assess the impact their action will have on the future and on the vast numbers of other beings who will be impacted.