8 Highly Practical Tips for Bridging the Political Divide

How we can come together this Independence Day.

Posted Jul 04, 2018

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A lot of people are anxious and stressed out about politics currently. You might be a staunch liberal or conservative who can't fathom the perspective of people on the opposite side of the political divide. Or, you might be a moderate who feels alienated from both sides and it seems like there is no place for you. Whichever part of the political spectrum you're coming from, you'd probably like to feel less of a sense of country-wide hostility. To that aim, here are some practical suggestions. Not all of these may seem helpful to you personally. You can cherrypick any that do seem useful.

Bridging the Political Gap

  1. Try making a brief list of things you think everyone can agree are problems to be solved, but where people have (perhaps radically) different views of how to solve those problems. You can put anything you like on your list. The point is for you to mentally generate it  yourself (and ideally jot it down as bullet points). Going with whatever the first three points you can think of is fine.
  2. In a similar vein, what do you think are values shared by most people on all parts of the political spectrum?  Identify three.
  3. What's an issue where you feel ambivalent? Perhaps you support abortion rights but you've struggled with infertility and the thought of someone terminating a healthy baby is heartbreaking and traumatizing to you. Perhaps you think it would be great if there were effective social services to give a hand up to people in need, but you completely doubt the government's capacity to competently achieve this. The specifics aren't important. The idea is to identify issues where you can, on some level, see the other side of the issue, even if you feel strongly about your current stance. Remember that ambivalence is having strong feelings in opposing directions.  
  4. Try opposite action. For example, if you've lost some faith in law enforcement, try being extra friendly and engaging to any local cops you come across in your community. Maybe consider thanking them for their service, like you might do to someone in the military. If you've lost faith in the idea of American values, maybe consider adding a flag sticker to your car, or hanging a flag at your house. You can always put an LGBT or black lives matter flag/sticker right next to it.  The psychological principle behind opposite action is that actions drive thoughts and feelings, so if you want to change your thoughts/feelings, then change your actions.
  5. Look for opportunities to be warm and compassionate in situations in which you tend to be judgmental. It could be as simple as engaging in some friendly chit chat with a postal service or DMV worker if you tend to get frustrated by customer service at the post office and DMV. Or, perhaps you might say something understanding to a Mom whose toddler is having a meltdown in a public place. The important point here is to identify whatever scenarios you tend to be judgmental in, and act opposite to that.
  6. Try having more conversations with strangers who seem different from you–the difference might be age, race, economic level etc. Since it's summer, try spending some time outside in public spaces to facilitate this. Sure, some people just want to be left alone, but there are a lot of people out there who are craving a sense of community and acceptance.
  7. Support an organization whose work you value but where that organization is usually associated with people who have different politics from your's.For example, you think X organization does amazing work but you're a conservative and that organization is generally seen as a progressive organization, or vice versa.Your support could be anything from a $5 donation or liking their Facebook page. Again, the principle here is that acting less partisan will help you think/feel in ways that are less partisan.
  8. Do simple things that are community-minded, like calling the park service if you notice the water fountain isn't working at your local park. Staying engaged in caring for public spaces can help you feel a sense of community and less of a sense of alienation. In the same vein, practice tolerance towards people who might be breaking small but relatively unimportant rules.

Wrapping Up

These are simple tips that anyone can implement. There may be times you when you feel so frustrated or alienated in your community that you want to step back, go into your shell and focus on just yourself and your family.  It's fine to have times like this and of switching off from the news. Balance those times with some of the actions suggested here.