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.
Spending time with people who are different may imply trying to understand the trajectory of their life: Where they come from? What was it like to grow up like they did ? How did they overcome challenges of life ?
Put it in practice. Someone in the advanced world grew up in poverty and supports stability in all cost , even when freedom is curbed. The theme of life is survival. When someone whose theme is to “ live “ meets that person , no amount of debate will help bridge the gap. That’s when we have to accept the way it is, especially when these people whom we disagree with are our loved ones.
There is empathy when we treasure people more than ideas and acknowledge that people’s beliefs don’t come from a vacuum; they always come from certain life experiences that as real as they can be.
Being exposed to differences is one step. Being exposed to the underdogs is even more helpful. Being exposed and believing that people are oriented to growth is one more step to take. With exposure and empathy , the remaining taskS are to find out what kept them stuck at a certain point ( could be trauma , or what not ) and to decide to what extent we are to live with what is while playing a role to be an agent of healing ( from the trauma , not from the belief).