3 Tips for Working with Political Polarization

Rural midwestern sustainable women farmers invited me to lead a worldview retreat so

they could learn new skills to address issues with their neighbours who are fracking landowners. The retreat was planned over a year in advance. I arrived 2 days after the U.S election to give a planned public talk entitled People Power and Civil Courage and then lead a retreat with the women sustainable farmers. In both settings political polarization was ripe with some having recently voted for Republican, Donald Trump and others who had voted for Democrat, Hilary Clinton. Pre-planned speaking notes and retreat plan developed weeks earlier went out the window as I improvised worldview skills for political polarization. Here are 3 of the things I tried that worked to uncover commonalities and built bridges:

1. Put on Canadian Ignorant Hat and Imagine…

As an outsider i can put on my curious hat and ask questions that would be harder for an insider to do. During one activity, I asked everyone to pretend we all voted for Donald Trump and we made a list on the flip chart of all we were hoping to achieve in voting for him. When we had a full list, I then asked everyone to pretend we all voted for Hilary Clinton and we made a list on the flip chart of all we were hoping to achieve in voting for her. We then looked at the lists, we found they were identical. For example everyone was looking to feel safe. What was different was the personal stories and experiences that led people to come to a different conclusion about how to achieve safety.

2. Start with Feelings then Uncover the Story

I wrote down the word “government” and asked people to randomly say their first feeling when they heard that word. As people shared their first feelings, i asked them to share stories. The activity unlocked the groups ideals and frustrations about government and enabled us to paint a picture of all a government could be as well as all its potential pitfalls. Women shared painful stories including losing a son to murder, military experiences in the Middle East and all the conclusions they made from these experiences on how to stay safe. This lay the groundwork for the deeper worldview and values based work we did next.

3. Dig for Values and Ignite Action

I asked each person to think about what was one thing that they felt outraged about during the election and then identify the value at stake. For example, one woman shared that an incompetent man getting the job over an intelligent woman outraged her and hence the value at stake was gender equity. Behind each outrage was a personal and often painful story pointing to to the essential need to live out the core value at stake. For example, one woman committed to never staying silent when a more competent woman is passed over for a job for a less competent man. In this way, each value at stake provides a the compass to ignite a personal commitment to action. After each woman worked on a worldview and values based personal inventory activity, each shared their commitment to action moving forward. We heard things like running for local politics, standing up for collaboration on a family run farm, teaching independence and self reliance, joining parents advisory council to ensure fair governance, and much more!

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