Friday, November 2, 2012

Either/or Thinking Blocks Empathy


Here’s another indication that we’re out of balance, have gone too far in the direction of either/or thinking and need to shift more towards both/and thinking. The October/November issue of the AARP magazine—yes, now you know, I’m old enough to be in AARP—has an article headlined: “Peaceful Politics: How to stay friends during election season—even if you don’t see eye to eye.”


The article cites a University of Michigan study showing that political differences made participants less compassionate toward their ideological opposites, even when they shared the same problem.  “Researchers approached subjects outside in the cold, then asked them to read about a hiker stranded in winter. Those whose political views were different from the hiker’s couldn’t identify with his plight, despite being chilly themselves, whereas those who had similar views could.” The study concludes: “It seems like political dissimilarity is blocking us from even beginning to step into somebody else’s shoes. But you don’t have to be this way.”


I think all of us, especially those that follow politics closely, have felt the pull of this insidious lack of empathy and perhaps even caught ourselves giving in to it. But, as the study says, “you don’t have to be this way.”


Next time you find yourself hating, blaming or enjoying the misfortune of those who disagree with you politically, remember, they’re flesh and blood human beings just like you. Realize you’ve gone too far with your exclusionary either/or, win/lose thinking and choose to shift to a more balanced inclusionary approach with both/and, win/win thinking.

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