The night after Donald Trump was elected,
I had a dream. I dreamed that his victory speech will concentrate on “binding the wounds of division”. And he really said that! And then I dreamed even bigger - that the wounds actually healed.
In my dream, as part of his first days in office, Donald proposed an ambitious (“dream big and bold and daring” he said in his speech) plan - pairing each Trump voter with a Hillary voter by a random lottery. In his slightly authoriarian way, they were ordered to “bind the wounds of division” through a conversation. In person if they live near. On Skype if they live far. Maybe an hour, maybe two, maybe three?
What helps with this plan is that Americans are conveniently split in half - half of them are frustrated with Donald Trump being elected and half of them have been frustrated for years by being the “forgotten men and women of our country” who voted for Trump. Frustration might seem like a problem - and it might also be the “burning platform” management gurus talk about when they want to start changing things.
So let’s say we have everybody paired up, they meet, “hi there Trump voter”, “hi there Hillary voter”. What’s next? No doubt this would not be an easy conversation. Again, fortunately enough, there is knowledge about how to conduct these discussions - for example in the book Difficult conversations. The book has many pages, but I assume its authors would be happy to summarize it in few pages or a short YouTube video to reach all Americans easily.
The main point the authors, long term researchers at the Harvard Negotiation Project, make, is that the purpose of that conversation is not to convince the other person that “I am right and you are wrong”, but to listen to their story, their emotions. And as a second step, aim to understand how, based on their life experiences, the way the “other side” behaves (i.e. votes) makes sense to them. So we are talking about genuine curiosity and no judgment. Not agreeing, but listening and understanding.
That’s it, you say? Not convincing anybody? Just listening to their story? Is that bold and big and daring enough?
OK, there is one more thing. An important element of difficult conversations is that each partner admits his or her contribution to the problem. In real life, this is usually not a 50/50 responsibility, but there is always a contribution from both sides. Yes, always. Even for me.
Where is my contribution in this? I live and vote in Europe, so I did not vote for either Hillary or Donald. At the same time, there are many similarities. I see two main parts of my contribution - the bubble and the contempt.
1) Bubble - I do live in a bubble - I read a certain kind of newspaper online, I talk to certain kind of people in person and on Facebook. I rarely meet people with opposing views and even more rarely engage with them in a conversation (mainly because I fear that conversation would be difficult).
2) Contempt - Contempt takes the form of a sarcastic comment or liking a funny and demeaning post about Trump/Hillary and their voters. As Dr. Gottman has shown in years of research on marriage, contempt is the number 1 predictor of divorce. It is fueled by long-term negative thoughts about the other person and feeling superior to him or her. As expected, this can hardly lead to mutual understanding. Yes, you might say: both Donald and Hillary have used contempt for their opponent and his/her supporters during the campaign. You are right. And we are talking about my contribution here, not theirs …
So as I start my difficult conversation with my fellow American (Czech, French, British), I would admit that this is my contribution … I have been living in a bubble and I have occasionally treated the “other side” with contempt.
And while waiting for Donald (and European politicians) to organize these conversations, I might work on myself … 1) live less in a bubble, at least once a week read a different newspaper and talk to someone who has different views from mine 2) take contempt completely out of my conversations - face-to-face or online.
And maybe I should not wait, but just start, right? Anybody joining me?
P.S. Oh, the picture - that is Brigitte Bardot in the 1963 French film "Contempt" (Le Mépris) by Jean-Luc Godard