A recent study found that Americans are less divided by substantive issues, as much as they are by identity politics. Surprising? Of course not. The rampant polarization and escalating rhetoric we see in society today clearly exceed what one would find in typical policy-based discussions.
The new research by Lilliana Mason from the University of Maryland found that “The effect of issue-based ideology is less than half the size of identity-based ideology in each element of social distance. … These are sizable and significant effects, robust to controls for issue-based ideology, and they demonstrate that Americans are dividing themselves socially on the basis of whether they call themselves liberal or conservative, independent of their actual policy differences.”
So, what can we do to change this?
Mason suggests that we stay away from politics. “Talking to each other about political stuff is sort of the worst solution ever because all that’s going to do is activate our political identities, which cause us to dislike each other. The better thing to do is if your next-door neighbor is of a different political orientation than you, to talk about their dog, or what’s going on in their family,” Mason said. “In general, the best way to get through this polarization is to start thinking of each other as human beings.” She said in an interview to the Intercept.
While stopping to talk politics can help us begin the healing we need to go through as a society, we can’t afford to leave our political discourse hijacked in the hands of those with the most extreme voices. Time and again it has been shown that those with the more extreme views in politics have their way—because of their vocal and active role in the political discourse.
So how do we start healing society without abandoning the political process? I suggest that we set for ourselves one of the following goals: making sure that at least 20 percent of our friends be from the opposite side of the political spectrum. We don’t need to discuss politics with those friends, but we do need to be able to respect them as human beings and our fellow citizens. Alternatively, or additionally, we must make sure that we take the time to listen to the ideas of those who disagree with us. We need to be able to listen to those who disagree with us and assume that they are not ill intended. Doing so will elevate the level of the National discourse and allow us to find more common ground. Seeing our fellow Americans’ positions and different, yet not ill-intended can help us unite as a Nation and focus on the positive that brings us together. It will help us realize that we share a world with people whose opinions we don’t share, and that is fine. We need not avoid our differences, we must make sure though, that they don’t stand in the way of the moral and historical obligations we have to our fellow Americans.
For our fractured society to heal, we need to begin pledging allegiance to each other. Nations succeed and thrive because of the liberty and freedom granted to each individual. And yet, when we begin to lose touch with our fellow citizens, those commitments suffer. Seeing the humanity and dignity, even in those who disagree with us, will allow us to grow and thrive as a Nation, and as individuals.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, teacher, and bipartisanship activist. His recent TEDx talk The High Price of Political Polarization focused on the impact polarization has on society. He lives with his wife in New York City
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.