Of course, Unstuck Minds has a point of view about abortion rights and the role of governments. Lots of people have points of view. Sadly, we’ve moved beyond reconciling our viewpoints. Now we’re stuck with a fight.
Disagreements are not Battle Lines
When we hold deeply entrenched opinions, we become susceptible to the dangerous belief that the people we disagree with are our enemy. Yes, we’re worried about the loss of freedoms, rights, and democratic ideals. We are even more worried about losing our ability and willingness to solve big problems together.
Let’s keep in mind that when we bring an issue into a court of law in the United States, we’re no longer seeking a solution. We’re seeking a ruling. Our country has adopted an adversarial system of law to settle disputes. Lawyers are trained to avoid nuance, complexity, and overlapping interests in favor of unassailable arguments. Once we give up on a negotiated or collaborative settlement, there’s no incentive to seek common ground.
By framing an issue as a choice between two opposing alternatives, we’re stuck devoting our energy to getting our way. If we can’t make a strong enough case for the outcome we want, we cunningly destroy the legitimacy of our adversary’s case. We no longer seek new insights and options. We simply define the battle line and pick a side. We end up with winners and losers. The losers will be expected to accept defeat and abide by the outcome they fought against.
In the wake of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, many of us feel the sting of defeat. We feel powerless and excluded. Something vital has been lost, something we took for granted has been taken away. We’re afraid that it won’t stop with reproductive rights. We fear a cherished way of life is being systematically dismantled.
Taking a more expansive and detached perspective reveals a pattern.
In 2016, rural, religious voters felt mocked by urban elitists. They felt that they were losing their country. They rallied behind the battle cry, “Make America Great Again.” They villainized people they believed were destroying their way of life. A resentful, disenfranchised plurality of citizens put Donald Trump in office and paved the way for Trump to reshape the Supreme Court.
When we care more about consolidating power than seeking solutions, we doom ourselves to an endless battle. We give up on creativity and compassion and instead work to put our people in charge of writing the rules and refereeing the game. Why bother fixing a problem if we can manipulate the outcome to get our way?
Overreliance on Authority Figures
We will continue to face calamities like pandemics and natural disasters that require swift, expert, autocratic responses. When responding to an emergency, we want our elected leaders to gather input and make efficient, smart decisions. But not all complex issues pose existential threats. As societies advance, as citizens become more educated and capable, we should see fewer and fewer disagreements that can only be settled by empowered authorities.
We shouldn’t, for example, need the Supreme Court to dictate which books can be found on the shelves of our public-school libraries.
It’s dangerous to disengage from problem-solving and put all controversial decisions in the hands of people with power. First, we become less capable of finding a way forward together. Secondly, who we put in charge becomes more important than improving the institutions enshrining our values. For example, we stop working on the effectiveness of our public-school boards and instead focus on electing a board that will do our bidding.
It doesn’t take any special skills of prognostication to see the makings of a vicious campaign season ahead of us. Here, in a nutshell, is every campaign ad we’ll be seeing this year:
Vote for me because I’m like you. The other candidate works for them. They want to enact laws designed to harm you. I won’t let them.
If a message like that doesn’t feel insulting, you’ve given up on thinking for yourself.
Complex problems deserve nuanced solutions. But improving how we think and connect is not easy. When we avoid thinking together in favor of letting courts and lawmakers decide, we lose faith in our ability to cooperate. How might we start?
Think better by distinguishing between inferences and observations
Develop a habit of discerning how people make the case for their opinions. Ask yourself when listening to an argument or advocacy, am I hearing inferences or observations? An inference is a conclusion. An observation is a comment on something noticed.
Many of the January 6th rioters wanted to hang Mike Pence is an inference. The word “wanted” is what turns the statement into an inference rather than a fact. Many of the January 6th rioters chanted, “Hang Mike Pence” is an observation. It’s natural to reach a conclusion about what the rioters wanted based on what they said, but when working towards a solution it’s best to build on what everyone can agree to.
Connect better by letting it RAIN
RAIN stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture (mindfulness teacher Michele McDonald, who is credited with developing RAIN, uses the N to stand for non-Identification). Psychologist and author Tara Brach has popularized the four-step meditation in numerous articles, videos, and in her book, Radical Compassion. In a brief overview of the tool, Brach describes RAIN as four steps for becoming more mindful when feeling anxious or stuck. We believe RAIN can also help when feeling upset by a confrontation or triggered by a distressing situation.
Recognize what is going on. Consciously acknowledge the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affecting us.
Allow the experience to be there. Just as it is. Try not to fix or avoid what is happening and simply accept the reality of the experience.
Investigate with interest and care. Become curious, in a non-judgmental way about what you’re experiencing.
Nurture with self-compassion. Recognize that you’re in distress and be kind to yourself.
When you learn to be kind to yourself in moments of stress, you’ll develop the inner resources needed to be kind to others.
At Unstuck Minds, we believe that when we think better and connect better, the world becomes more creative and compassionate. Connecting better requires a belief in human dignity and a practice of empathy. Thinking better requires curiosity and a willingness to change your mind.
Jay G. Cone is the author of The Surprising Power of Not Knowing What to Do; Discovering Creativity and Compassion in a Time of Chaos. He is the co-founder of Unstuck Minds.