The pain you feel on behalf of people you’ve never met? That is your divinity. – K.C. Wilder

News reports, social media and conversations around the office water cooler have focused on the seemingly endless examples of non-civil discourse in our communities and on the public stage. Incitements of violence, name-calling, overt attempts to shame and blame those on the
“other” side seem more common now than anytime in recent memory. While I could hypothesis about the forces that instigate or support such inflammatory exchanges, I’d prefer to offer suggestions to de-escalate the antagonism:

1. Be genuinely curious. ​Most people not only like to talk about themselves, they also like to share why they feel the way they do. Ask questions about how they developed their opinion; what life experiences led them to value their current position? Invest less in being right or wrong, and more in understanding the other person’s feelings, regardless of whether we agree.

2. Be kind. ​A simple suggestion, but sometimes hard to enact when emotions are high. We can always choose to behave as our best selves. Using language that is respectful and validating both sides’ right to their positions can lower the temperature of the discussion.

3. Empathize. ​Easier said, than done, I know. But empathy doesn’t imply agreement with the speaker. It simply validates that we have the capacity to feel as passionately, fear as intensely or love as deeply, even if it’s not about the same subject. I may not feel that gun control, for example, feels like a threat to someone’s rights, but I can correlate how my need to feel in control of my body and to not have someone else regulate how I treat my body can feel like a kind of threat as well.

4. Acknowledge our universal need for safety. ​People often identify personally with their values and beliefs, even though “we” are NOT our behaviors or political positions. Ultimately, we are drawn to ideas, values and actions that make us feel safe and in integrity with who we believe we are (or want to be.) If we can approach others with the understanding that they want and need to feel safe, and that they believe their position allows them to be so, it’s easier to understand why our investment in our “side” is so high.

We are all made of the same “stuff” as the stars. Matter changes form, but energy continues forever. If we embrace the divine nature in ourselves and others, we can more easily bridge the divide of “us versus them” and join together as the “we” the world so desperately needs.