What do you do if your colleague is a Trump supporter?
How To Cope When A Family Member Says They’re Voting For Trump: This was the headline of an article that was shared with me recently. It contained guidance around how to deal with the inevitable sense of disappointment and rage you might experience. It’s one of many articles written along these lines lately.
Indeed, in many workshops and listening sessions we’ve hosted recently with employees, particularly in the U.S., we heard stories of families divided and friendships broken due to differences in political beliefs.
And for many of the clients we work with, one of the key D&I issues facing teams at the moment is differences in political views within teams.
In overtly liberal organisations, people who hold Right-leaning views can feel judged and ostracised. And in overtly conservative environments, Left-leaning members can feel frustrated and silenced.
As I read the article, I reflected on how I would feel if a friend told me they voted for Brexit...
As a twice-immigrant who is married to a bi-racial second-generation European immigrant, it is outrageous to me that anyone would favour a policy that fuels narrow nationalism and creates walls and divides. My life and work is all about creating greater inclusion and widening the “us”. So it’s no secret which side of the political spectrum I live on.
Is it fair to paint any and all “Trump supporters” or any and all “Brexiteers” with the same broad brush and make assumptions about everything else they might believe or stand for, without a conversation or any attempt to understand what their thinking is?
In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Haidt talks about six ‘moral foundations’ for our beliefs: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, Sanctity/Degradation, and Liberty/Oppression. The political divide, he says, comes from the fact that Liberals place a much greater emphasis on Care and Fairness over and above the other aspects.
In a similar vein, Goodhart, talks about two distinct political ‘tribes’ in the UK: “Anywheres” (whose sense of self and value comes from “portable” aspects of their identity, such as their educational and career success and who are therefore more comfortable with new people and places) and “Somewheres” (whose sense of identity is rooted in a specific place or community, and who are therefore more locally-focussed and socially conservative).
What this means is there are fundamentally different psychological drivers for our political beliefs – whether that’s just the way we are wired or down to the way we are raised – but without understanding what drives the ‘other side’, we will never be able to bridge the divide.
And we do need to try and bridge the divide.
Polarisation suits politicians but it’s not healthy for a society that should be built on shared principles and constructive discussion rather than labelling and name-calling.
Polarisation also makes us throw every issue into one bucket or the other, leaving no grey areas or scope for common ground. Everything gets politicized, including issues like health, face masks, policing and even diversity training! These issues don’t belong in buckets – they affect us all, Left and Right.
Trying to bridge the divide does not necessarily mean changing our beliefs or compromising our values, it means listening and trying to understand instead of shutting down or shutting out. It means engaging with respect, humility and a genuine intent to learn where the other is coming from rather than with an intent to dismiss or put down.
I’m not pretending that it’s easy to talk to someone who comes from a totally opposing viewpoint. And perhaps some aspects are so fundamentally against your values that you have to draw the line.
But... it is only if we make a genuine effort to understand where other peoples’ motivations and beliefs might be driven from, that we have any chance of reaching people at different ends of the political spectrum and maybe finding a shared vision.
(A caveat here: Being open-minded does not mean we have to accept anything and everything. We ALL remain responsible for critiquing what we hear, fact-checking and educating ourselves about the key issues, rather than blindly following a political side.)
In all our bias workshops, we emphasise the importance of building connection: understanding other perspectives and not making pre-judgements or assumptions about others on the basis of limited information. Should that principle not apply to people with opposing political affiliations too - just as we might do with someone who has different cultural or religious beliefs (even if we don’t understand it or agree with it)? This is not about becoming ‘middle’ or not having political views, it is about treating a person as a person rather than putting them in a box of ‘Trump supporter’ or ‘crazy Liberal’.
I know this is much easier said than done, because this issue is sensitive and it is clearly significant because other people’s political views are likely to affect our lives in material ways, particularly with the upcoming election in the U.S. So it’s certainly not irrelevant to us what other people believe politically and how they vote. But that makes it all the more important to courageously deal with those differences rather than refuse to engage. Otherwise how will we ever make progress?
The world is becoming increasingly polarised, and to a large extent, this is due to manipulation by social media, and the power-interests of political figures (watch the Social Dilemma and the Great Hack on Netflix, if you haven’t already!). In this context, it is more important than ever to take a curious and critical view of what we read, what we hear and what we assume.
I understand the need for the article I mentioned at the start – there are many people for whom these differences are causing a lot of pain and anguish – but I wish the article also included some tips for having healthy debate, understanding motivations, having difficult conversations and connecting across the divide, rather than just guidance on how to “depart” from those who lean the other way.
In June 2016, many of us in London woke up in shock to hear the result of the Brexit referendum. 52% of our country voted to leave the EU. We couldn’t understand it. That’s because we lived in our bubble in the Capital, blind to what most of the country was thinking and feeling and oblivious to the thoughts and fears that were shaping that crucial voting decision (putting aside, for a minute, the questions around how that campaign was run).
If we want to move forward and strengthen our society and the democratic process, we cannot choose to stay in our political or our geographic bubbles. We cannot resort to simple name-calling driven by polarised propaganda. We have to engage and we have to examine, so we don’t have blind spots in the future.
This is probably the biggest challenge to our empathy that we face right now.
 https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/cope-family-member-says-voting-050042511.html  https://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/484831-another-friendship-lost-over-trump  The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, by J Haidt (2012)  The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics, by David Goodhart (2017)  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/09/23/donald-trump-signs-order-saying-government-diversity-training/