How to Communicate in a Polarized Society

Issue 1903

11 March 2019

How do we communicate in a polarized society? How do we promote unity, encounter and reconciliation while remaining faithful to diversity? What is the attitude, the mindset required to be good communicators in a context where polarization seeks to impose itself on every public or private discussion?

Polarization is as old as humanity, but today it tends to increase exponentially in the face of large-scale changes and uncertainties. In the U.S., where nearly half of voters, both Democrats and Republicans, currently see their political opponents as a threat to the welfare of the nation, the growing polarization has given rise to studies and projects aimed at overcoming it.[1]

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is at the forefront of this effort. In The Righteous Mind, he stressed the importance of “moral intuitions” and the fact that people seek arguments to defend them.[2] Liberals and conservatives need to learn what moral intuitions respectively motivate each other if they are to cross the gap separating them.

The civic organization Better Angels tries to “depolarize America” by implementing practical projects in which it brings together supporters of Democrats and Republicans.[3] Its founder, David Blankenhorn, who describes himself as a person injured by the American culture wars, has identified seven attitudes to depolarize conflict, deriving them from the seven classical virtues of Christianity.

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