One thought on “Is Empathy Possible in Today’s Polarized Political Environment?”

  1. I often feel both sad and glad when we seem to “discover” ideas that have long been at the core of our teaching and practice of conflict management.

    It is good to know that “putting ourselves in the other’s shoes” might make a comeback, for reasons mentioned by the article’s authors. No, that does not mean espousing others” values or compromising ones own. And yes, it helps to formulate one’s arguments (strategically) in terms that address others’ concerns, rather than keep harping on one’s own. We’ve known for a long time that if we want to get something done (rather than argue or communicate how virtuous or right we are) we need to come up with proposals that address the others’ needs, not just our own.

    It is also sad to be reminded that in the current switch of focus from interests to values, this knowledge and these skills have been lost even among conflict management professionals. Stereotying and halo effects, once considered by most as judgmental biases detrimental to conflict management, have made a strong comeback. Comically, after observing some evenhandedness for the sake of their arguments, even the article’s authors could not come up with one example of Democrats being swayed by a Republican argument, though they did have examples of the opposite.

    Elections, fresh in our minds, are not the best situations for studying or exercising empathy. They are periodic moments when people can and should, and do let their own values lead. They are not meant to be conflict management processes. But when they are over, we need to get things done. That is when we should focus on interests (people share many, despite value differences), use empathy, and arrive to agreements.

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