In an age of polarisation, we need nuanced understanding of people and issues more than ever.
What does nuance mean to you? To me it means things like:
- Knowing some of the shortcomings of your side of the debate;
- Seeing – and not excusing – the failings (and worse) of people on your side of the debate;
- Looking for reasons behind the failings of those on the other side;
- Being comfortable with a bit of ambiguity;
- Understanding the stories that the other side tells and why they find them compelling;
- Trying to be clear-eyed about your own issues, prejudices and blind-spots;
- Having a sense of how things have changed, or are different in other places;
- Seeing people more than you see “sides”.
How do we achieve nuance? Breadth of experience and compassion are key. These things help:
- Spending time with people who are different from you;
- Thinking about how you’ve changed with time (i.e. getting older);
- Going to new places;
- Reading different newspapers;
- Learning a new language;
- Doing different work;
- Reading history;
- By not pretending to be perfect;
- Reading literature from other times, and old books in general;
- Asking questions – especially of older people;
- Making – and learning from – mistakes.
The more friends and sympathies you have on the other side of the fence, or the more you cross the fence on different issues, the better.
The map – our framework for understanding people, issues, controversies, cultures – is not the territory.