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October 31, 2023

Us Them Hands-SM

Getting Beyond Polarization

In this Special Edition Newsletter…

  • Invitations & Announcements
  • Special Edition: Getting Beyond Polarization
  • Resources to Further Efforts
  • Story of the Week: Catalytic Thinking in Practice

Invitations & Announcements:

It all Starts with Listening
What does it take to listen for what is possible – especially with people we disagree with? That is what our Catalytic Listening webinar will help you to explore. At your holiday table. In your community. With your coworkers. Learn how to listen for the values hiding in the conflicts and drama, for the strengths hiding in feelings of weakness, for the potential hiding in the complaints and problems. It all starts here…

Sharing your workload with your whole community
That is what we’ll be discussing at our next Integrity Body (aka board) meeting. Be part of the discussion as we step into a distributed / mutual aid / Collective Enoughness approach to accomplishing our mission – including ideas for raising money. If you’re curious about more effective ways of accomplishing your own mission, you won’t want to miss this conversation. Find out more here…

Special Edition
Getting Beyond Polarization

This is a special edition of our eJournal, sharing a resource that we found particularly insightful – research on polarization, democracy, and political violence, done by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

While the paper focuses primarily on the political system in the United States, for us it raises a bigger question: 

  • In what ways are community benefit organizations contributing to polarization – perhaps unwittingly, perhaps intentionally? 
  • Just as politicians are using polarization to raise money and gain votes, are we, too, using divisive, us-and-them scare tactics to raise money and gain support? 
  • Are we demonizing the “other side,” discounting people (elected officials, family members) with whom we disagree rather than seeking to find common ground?

The paper’s findings note that there are so many issues about which we agree, and yet we assume the worst.

From the research…

American voters are less ideologically polarized than they think they are, and that misperception is greatest for the most politically engaged people.

Polarization is a highly nuanced field, and small assumptions can lead to big mistakes. Practitioners and philanthropists should be particularly careful about their assumptions.

People working in the social change ecosystem tend to be among those “most politically engaged people.” We tend to be the ones making assumptions about the “other side.”

Sadly, every time we do so, we are jeopardizing our own efforts to create a more just and equitable world.

This is NOT about folks who are hell-bent on seeing you fail. If there is no good faith on their part, there is no point in trying to have a conversation (good advice in community work and in life!) But as the research shows, that is a small fraction of the people we assume are on the “other side.”

While the findings of this research paper include items that may seem intuitive, are those intuitive conclusions guiding our work? Or are we, too, succumbing to the dark side?

From the research (emphasis is ours)…

  •  … interventions to change individuals’ emotions must be paired with efforts that alter how politicians are incentivized to instrumentalize or amplify polarization as a strategy.
  •  … The most effective interventions involve reducing fears that the other side is intent on breaking democratic norms.
  • Win-lose-style, adversarial advocacy that amplifies the belief that members of the other party are bent on destroying democracy itself is likely to deepen polarization.

Are we amplifying polarization as a strategy for raising money? For doing advocacy work? Are we reducing fears of the other side or amplifying them?

In these times of deep divide worldwide…

In these times of war, of taking sides…

We have a choice. We can participate in demonizing the “other side.” Or we can listen to what may just be our favorite finding in this paper…

  • A different form of pluralistic work that coordinates groups to act on shared goals, despite other differences of opinion, may work to bridge partisanship, build trust, and advance a more just democracy.

And isn’t that at the heart of what so much of social change work is all about?

Resources to Further Your Practice:

  • LISTEN: Creating the Future’s next webinar is on more effective listening. Listening for the values at the heart of conflict, for the strengths and aspirations hiding behind our feelings of weakness. Info is here…
  • TAKE THE CHALLENGE: A Yale student shares his experience with the Polarization Detox Challenge - a series of micro-activities to help you “disagree with deceny.” Read it here…
  • GET THE BOOK: We are reading The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization by social psychologist Peter Coleman. Principles & practices for navigating and healing difficult divides. Info is here

Story of the Week: Catalytic Thinking in Practice

This week’s story comes from Meaghan Orrall, a board member at The Mentoring Network in Nampa, Idaho.

I was on an adventure with the kids in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho, hunting these cute little moose statues. I asked 5-year-old Cillian how he thinks we can find them. He shrugged and said "I don't know." Then I changed the question, asking him “What would it take to find the statues?” His response: "Sharp eyes and a map."

We know in our minds that changing the questions we ask should result in different answers, but seeing it enacted so innocently from the mouth of a 5-year old was truly inspiring for me.

Got a Catalytic Thinking story to share with our readers? Let us know here!

Help Keep Our Programs Freely Available
Creating the Future’s eJournal is free. And there are no financial barriers to our classes – tuition is whatever folks can afford. Because we never want money to stand in the way of people learning.

If you value our content and our approach, please donate here – and please consider becoming a monthly supporter of our work.

eJournal Archives:
If you’re new to our eJournal, or just want to remind yourself of past practice exercises we’ve shared, check out our eJournal archives here.

Creating the Future's Mission
Teach people how to change the systems they find themselves in,
to create a future different from our past -
all by changing the questions they ask.

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Creating the Future is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization in the U.S.A