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How to break the argument habit

Whatever side of the blue-red chasm you sit on, dialogue can clear the smoke of polarization obscuring the divide

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Hope is a precious commodity in uncertain, anxiety-provoking times. These days, my greatest hope stems from the wealth of knowledge now available about how to foster resilient, respectful, authentic relationships - even in the heart of intractable and polarizing conflict. We already have the tools to inspire powerful, positive shifts in even chronic, polarized conflicts. We can transform "us" and "them" into an effective, multiminded, working "we."

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Fostering this transformation is the best way I know to have a positive impact on public matters close to my heart and central to my understanding of our collective welfare. But this "climate change" will happen only if a critical mass of citizens make it their business to learn what resources are available and develop the will to use them.

No matter who wins on Nov. 2, on Nov. 3 it is essential that each of us reach out to people who voted for the "other" presidential candidate. We need to clear the air and join forces in grappling constructively with the serious dilemmas confronting our neighborhoods, nation, and world.

Each of us has a catalytic role to play in transforming the largely embattled frontier along which our demographic and ideological differences meet. The new hospitable outposts we build on the boundary "between" will hatch the dialogues and innovative ideas that will make it possible for our sprawling democracy to survive.

Laura Chasin is founder and executive director of the Public Conversations Project, a multiservice nonprofit organization that promotes constructive alternative approaches to divisive public issues.

Do your part to bridge the gap

Join the effort to stop polarization

• Develop the courage and savvy to overcome the seductions of polarizing language. Ask anyone who uses sweeping generalizations to cite some specifics they're referring to.

• Refuse to ask or answer rhetorical questions.

• Be as dedicated a citizen as you are a consumer: Spend as much time shopping for candidates - and exploring issues - as you do exploring the mall.

Fight for Technicolor

• Don't reduce everyone and everything to black and white. Stand up for the multicolored reality of yourself and others.

• Listen to your internal dialogue. In thinking about people who disagree with you, have you developed mental habits that narrow the spectrum you see?

Build bridges

• Have a conversation with someone who thinks differently from you. Seek only to understand and to be understood rather than persuade.

• Don't assume - ask!

• Express your views so they become sources of contact and learning, rather than antagonism. Avoid words likely to raise your listener's defenses.

Spread the word

• Bring people together who think differently about an important issue. Support others' efforts to resist polarization and identify shared concerns and goals.

Resources

• For those looking to find or start a dialogue group in their area, the following groups offer ways to get involved in local and national issues:

The Public Conversations Project

(www.publicconversations.org)

The National Coalition for Dialogue and

Deliberation (www.thataway.org)

Let's Talk America (www.letstalkamerica.org)

By the People (www.pbs.org/newshour/btp)

The World Café (www.theworldcafe.com)

- The Public Conversations Project

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