Part Two: Bridging political divides
(Part One of this article explores three different ways we can respond to the question of “mixing business and politics”. Option One, the most challenging one, is to actively encourage political conversations across divides; Option Two involves refining our niche, so that we can have productive political conversations among generally like-minded folks; while Option Three consists of choosing to do our political work elsewhere. For more on each of those options, see the prequel to this article; what follows is primarily focused on Option One.)
What follows is drawn from the professional work I do as a group facilitator. Given that I am often doing this bridge-building work in contexts other than social media, I don’t generally choose option 1 (actively encouraging political conversations across divides) on my own fairly small FB page. Instead, I tend toward option 2 (the often undervalued activity of “preaching to the choir”). However, there’s a significant exception to this: I have a number of conservative family members, whom I have intentionally NOT chosen to “unfriend”. When their posts show up on my feed, I have an opportunity to practice “bridging conversations”…. or at least, to attempt to offer my perspective in a respectful manner. I also get to practice on some of my friends’ FB pages, who have a much larger and diverse group of FB friends.
So now, here are a few tips and resources for anyone who wants to host bridging conversations across political differences, on your FB page or other social media.
Start by being clear about your “big why”. So you answered “yes” to the question in Part One, “Do you really want to use your FB page as a place to have productive conversations across political divides?” That’s great, and…WHY did you answer “yes”?
This is super important. People sometimes jump to the next step, “creating guidelines”… yet being crystal-clear about your purpose, can be even more powerful than a clear and consistent set of guidelines. Of course I recommend having both clarity of purpose, AND clear guidelines; yet your guidelines will be much more powerful, if they flow naturally from your purpose.
In order to land on your “big why” you can use a well-known coaching exercise, the one that involves repeatedly asking yourself, “Why?” So for example, you might say, “I answered YES, I really want to encourage conversations across divides, because of (x)”. So then the next question would be, “why do I want (x)? … and so on, until you reach something that feels surprisingly solid, and that has more to do with your own deep values, experience, and beliefs, than in any change you expect to see in others.
Once you have your “big why”, you are ready for the next step.
Develop a set of clear guidelines, and be prepared to follow through with them. Of course, you will learn as you go, so be prepared to tweak your guidelines or change them at some point as well, but it helps to not do so lightly. In order to develop your own guidelines, here’s one good way to start:
Learn from what others are doing. Speaking of learning, it helps to realize that there are folks out there who have been doing this work for a long time, and, we can all learn from one another.
Here are some of my favorite resources that I love to share with others. Some are “inspirational true stories”, others are more “how-to’s”, and still others explore scientific research on the power of empathy for creating an environment where people can reconsider their beliefs.
Two “true stories” about the power of empathy
Megan Phelps-Roper’s TED talk is a true story of how a certain kind of social media interactions, helped someone to begin questioning some of their long-standing beliefs.
This in-depth Washington Post article is a long and fascinating true story about a young advocate of white supremacy, and the journey that led him to question and eventually abandon the beliefs that he had learned from his family.
Articles about scientific research on the power of empathic listening
I love the title of this Vox article. I later learned that the process these scientists studied is called “deep canvassing”.
This article from Common Dreams is about another scientific study of the same “deep canvassing” process.
This is a link to an article on Google Docs, that includes various links, in addition to the two already listed above.
Three “how-to” articles and videos:
This is a Ted Talk by Eve Pearlman.
A very useful article on Medium, primarily written for having conversations with family members.
An article by Deepak Malhotra, professor of negotiation at Harvard Business School.
p.s. and just about anything from Dr. Karen Tamerius and her work in “Progressively Speaking”, an awesome resource that I have recently discovered, and wish I had discovered much earlier…