The Perils of Polarization

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Back to Article

The Perils of Polarization

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)

(Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)

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By Donald Dugan

In his first inaugural address, President Lincoln pushed for a compromise between Northern and Southern sympathizers that was vital to the preservation of the Union.

His calls for unity and disapproval of violent conflict encouraged conversation between leading representatives on both sides.

Although this address was given in a vastly different era, parallels can be drawn between the polarization in his era and ours.

Appreciating the balance of dialogue that Lincoln’s first inaugural speech strove to encompass is vital in understanding how members of our current society can begin to depolarize from within.

The United States has experienced a steady increase in polarization since the 1980s. Greg Lukianoff defines particularly effective polarization as “people who can identify with either two main political parties increasingly hate or fear the other party” in his book.

This fact along with an increased understanding of Lincoln’s Inaugural address dialogue, inspired me to observe the way both conversation and compromise is viewed in my personal life.

I wanted to know how people reacted to conversation. Did they refrain from expressing their full views? Did the conversation end in anger and regret? Or did they learn something from an opposing view?

Family events are often a breeding ground for political disagreement as close members of a group feel comfortable expressing differing views. At one of my family’s recent events, a small conversation began across the table between two members which began to intensify as both individuals felt great importance over their opinions. The conversation was interrupted by a third party, who argued that these sorts of disagreements had no place at Easter Brunch.

While this was an understandable request, I disagreed with the philosophy behind it. My uncle and I, a family member who I debate with furiously and often, stepped in. We argued that the conversation should go on.

This request was not rooted in my uncle’s and my contentious attitudes, but in the productive past experience of debating one another. As our constant debates forced us to question our beliefs, they not only helped solidify our opinions but also exposed us to information unfamiliar to us.

Although it had occurred in my personal life, I was curious to see how this issue was being addressed across the country. I then came across an article published in the Washington Post titled “Politicians can’t seem to do it, but these citizens are learning how to find common ground.” The author Colby Itkowitz illustrates the conversation patterns of Americans in a post 2016 country.

One particular American citizen quoted in the article, Donna Murphy expressed the pressure she experienced speaking to people with different political opinions. She said she and others in her life were afraid to talk about politics because they felt it could escalate to a shouting match rather than a productive dialogue.

She claimed that without speaking to people who disagreed with her, there was no possibility that she or whoever she was debating with could move forward on an issue.

As the Washington Post article continues, it begins to highlight an organization named Better Angels. Aimed at depolarizing the United States’ political landscape, it hosts conferences all across the country where people with opposing political views sit down and have a conversation.

These conversations aren’t aimed at convincing one group of another’s ideas but are simply aimed at getting both groups to understand the opposition’s views. With an organized start to fixing the polarization that occurs in our society, I believe it will inspire private conversations of the same depth.

Using these ideals as example, I believe that dialogues like these can occur not only in organized settings but in everyday life, about any topic, and with any person.

I use this column to make a call to each person reading this to challenge your prior convictions every day. In a world of distractions, take the time to connect with one another regardless of the emotion you may feel during the process.