Mending the Political Divide

I think we can all agree that last week was unbearable. As Election Day turned into Election Week, we earnestly refreshed our news feeds while struggling through case readings. As of Saturday, it was finally over (kind of). I know many of us are tired of the political discourse, but there’s still work ahead. As members of a law school situated in an area that voted overwhelmingly in favor of Biden, it might be easy to settle into our bubbles and set aside the nation’s immense division. Unfortunately, that mindset won’t help to find a solution. In this post, I share a few proposed remedies to mend our polarized society. I’d like to include the caveat that I haven’t necessarily implemented all of these myself. 

First up is the work of René H. Levy. Levy is a neuroscientist and author of the book Mending America’s Political Divide, where he utilizes his scientific expertise to propose practical solutions. Levy attributes the increasing political divide to our primitive psychology. He breaks this down into two innate instincts: political tribalism and political hatred, both of which result in a profound loss of empathy. Levy’s action plan highlights impulse control and empathy skills as two main methods to rebuild and coexist:

“The primitive brain takes policies of the opposition, sees them as an imminent reality as if they had already become law, and makes us feel that we must fight back right now. The wisdom approach on the other hand takes the time to untangle potential from actual impact, and derails the perception of threat. The perception of threat is transformed into the correct perception of a potential future challenge.”

Mending America’s Political Divide

One organization putting similar methods into practice is the camp Seeds of Peace, a program to equip youth and educators with the skills to work in solidarity across lines of difference. Spencer Traylor, a former camper at Seeds of Peace, offered some useful advice in a recent NPR article titled, “After A Bitter Election, Can Americans Find A Way To Heal Their Divides?” He explained how encouraging uncomfortable conversations in order to quell divisions was important for a functional community:

“You have to talk about conflict in order to have a functional community. And you have to create methods and give tools and resources for young people and adults to be able to have those conversations in ways that are productive and constructive and in ways that people can start to see and understand each other rather than try to hide their feelings and thoughts away from each other.”

Seeds of Peace has seen substantial success in working through disagreements in a way that maintains relationships. 

Another central theme that came across in my research was building trust. Especially in instances where disagreements have caused feelings of betrayal, building back trust is paramount. Lack of trust in relationships and communities also reduces morale and consequently productivity. In the Harvard Business Review article, “Begin with Trust,” authors Frances X. Frei and Anne Morriss explain that trust has three core drivers: authenticity, logic, and empathy.

“People tend to trust you when they believe they are interacting with the real you (authenticity), when they have faith in your judgment and competence (logic), and when they feel that you care about them (empathy).”

Begin with Trust

These qualities can positively impact many other areas of life, including strengthening existing relationships with likeminded friends or coworkers. I think it’s important to build these skills as individuals in order to strengthen our communities based on respect and responsibility. So far in my limited (and virtual) time at BC Law, I have been pleasantly surprised to see this respect among my classmates. I hope we continue to have difficult conversations post-election as we learn from each other outside the confines of our legal studies. 

Lastly, I would like to highlight that November is Native American Heritage Month. Trust-building strategies as a part of reconciliation aid in improving partnerships with indigenous communities. For more information on trust in this context, this qualitative descriptive study was especially comprehensive. You can also view upcoming events and resources at https://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/.


Fiona Maguire is a first-year student at BC Law. Contact her at maguirfi@bc.edu.

Featured image used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

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