Reaching Across Divisions is Hard

As has been said elsewhere, some prospective bridge-builders will feel a need to do some skill building, or perhaps skill testing, before they engage across divides personally. Many will feel doubts about their ability to monitor and control their own emotions. Some will feel within themselves the potential to "lose their temper" and say things they'll regret. Don't ignore these concerns.

If you have such worries, and many people should, the best course may be to follow two tracks at the same time. On one track, you can intentionally build the skills and attitudes needed for success. On the other track, you can participate in and support the bridge-building movement in many ways other than personally engaging across divides. Many of these alternatives are described generally in our article on Where Progress Is Being Made. You can volunteer, write or vocalize in support of bridge-building, sign petitions, attend conferences, donate and more.

As with most of our bigger challenges as a society, when you look below the surface conflicts covered by the mass media you find a rich tapestry of often highly dedicated and competent bridge-building activists, equipped with good ideas, and with their arms outstretched to us in invitation to join them.

We've posted a page of links to organizations active in this arena. A few are featured at the top of the list because they are actively recruiting volunteers and have action options and related tools to assist activists who want to become involved.

Beyond these options, there are a range of things you can do to prepare yourself with the attitudes and skills that will make you much more effective in working with people whose opinions differ sharply from your own. We consider these practical steps both because they involve things individuals can do and because acquiring these attitudes and skills increases the practical effectiveness of everything you do as an activist and advocate.

The scope of what is included under building your skills is large. We must learn to avoid responding to anger with anger, learn to recognize when people are just arguing over words rather than real things, learn to compensate for cognitive biases and other instinctive reactions that make cooperation more difficult (otherwise known as getting "the mote out of thine own eye"), and much more.

With the right attitudes and skills, you will have a greater ability to speak up without giving offense, to advocate action without stoking the fears of others that you are pursuing a hidden agenda, and to win trust by showing real and genuine respect for those with different views. No matter where you may choose to engage, these skills will add to your effectiveness. That's practical.

Many actions that would be pointless or even counterproductive without the right attitudes and skills can become fruitful with a retooled approach. Speaking out in writing and in meetings can be done in ways that inflame tensions or in ways that calm the waters, and a rethought approach can help you calm the waters and win support for the things you suggest.

Individuals and small groups, working within local communities, can become explicit advocates for greater civic comity and cooperation. The opportunities will be visible only to those embedded in communities. Individuals will spot places where working together could produce community benefits, and they will spot where unnecessary conflicts are getting in the way of good things happening. Communities need proactive peacemakers, people who work to be reconcilers of harmful conflicts. Most of the people reading these words have it within themselves to become such peacemakers.

Published: July 2019
Revised: June 2023

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