Whom in your circles would you identify as depolarizers, political or otherwise, either naturally and/or by effortful intention?
What makes them so, and how do you think they would respond to a call to communion with fellow depolarizers? What would that call even sound like?
How much do you see yourself as a depolarizer?
We could consider ‘boundary spanner’ as a synonym to ‘depolarizer.’ These people see and understand, at least partially, more than one side of an issue or conflict. More importantly, they respect and value each perspective. They listen empathetically, validate our feelings, and express (or at least seek) understanding, even if they disagree with our beliefs or positions. Talking to them, we feel seen, heard, understood, and accepted—even loved. Our breathing slows, our muscles relax. What happens next is the best part—we ourselves may become more likely to also listen, empathize, understand, and validate opinions or experiences other than our own. And voilà, we de-escalate, and the distance between us diminishes.
Effective depolarizers practice three key skills:
- Self-awareness: Of their own biases, triggers, core values, tendencies in conversation and groups, etc. They own these traits/patterns, and acknowledge them freely, visibly, without judgement or shame. They understand how these traits may skew their perspectives.
- Self-regulation: They manage their own personality traits and biases, set and maintain healthy boundaries, attune to their own needs and honor them, also out loud and visibly. They monitor the heat and tension of interactions in service of maintaining healthy relationship and personal integrity at the same time.
- They ask excellent questions, based on deep listening and sincere curiosity, and that are meant to deepen/broaden/add texture to conversation in relationship and connection. Their questions defuse and disarm, and invite calmer, more thoughtful reflection and engagement.
Hostage negotiators deploy these skills with precision in very high stakes encounters. Then again, so do effective divorce mediators, middle school teachers, and parents of toddlers and adolescents, no?
So really, don’t we all have a little depolarizer in us somewhere? Do we not all have the innate capacity to relate to all other humans, to connect, through our shared needs and experiences? It is not that depolarizers have no convictions, are wishy-washy on issues, and can just be swayed from one side to another and back again. It’s that they (we) do not constantly need to be right, to convince everybody to see the world as we do, to persuade or convert. We advance our causes in various ways, not the least of which is enrolling others by way of coalition building around shared interests and goals. Depolarizers amplify connections rather than sow divisions. We focus more on growing ‘us’ than demonizing ‘them’.
So what keeps our inner depolarizer in the closet when it comes to sensitive topics like abortion, immigration, religion, and politics in general? Or in family conflict and workplace politics? I posit that it has, at least partially, to do with two levels of psychological safety: intrinsic and extrinsic. More on these ideas in the next two posts!