Three Reasons To Be Hopeful - BCB #80
A guide to surviving the election year, a depolarizing chatbot, and religious leaders working to bring people together
We are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Amanda Ripley has made a list of small things each of us can do, learning from someone who’s been through all this before: Venezuelan journalist Victor Hugo Febres, who watched Hugo Chávez rise to power and divide the country.
Just like in America, a magnetic political outsider had risen to power because the insiders were seen as corrupt and out of touch. In both places, media elites picked sides, becoming more and more opinionated and righteous--and less and less relevant.
1. “Don’t let yourself be hijacked by polarization. It will make you crazy.”
Don’t let polarization consume you. In Venezuela, Febres realized that being overly absorbed in conflict can overshadow other essential aspects of life, like family time or non-political traditions. He now focuses on diversifying his interests and not allowing polarization to define his identity. This approach is crucial to maintain a balanced perspective, especially in politically charged environments.
2. “Limit the amount of anguish you take on.”
Overindulgence in distressing news doesn't necessarily help resolve anything. Instead it can harm our well-being and productivity, distracting us from meaningful actions we can take in our immediate circle.
So practice being aware of when politics becomes toxic for you and try changing your habits. Approaching conflict the wrong way can have real effects on your health.
Researchers have found that political partisans experience spikes in cortisol, the primary stress hormone, whenever their side loses. In high conflict, these cortisol injections become recurring. Every time you look at your phone, you feel threatened. And in these cases, cortisol acts like a toxin--impairing the immune system, degrading memory and concentration, weakening muscle tissue and bones and accelerating the onset of disease.
3. “If you see something good to do, do it… and don’t expect a big result.
In high-conflict situations, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. Ripley suggests recognizing the limitations of one's influence and focusing on small, positive actions. Whether it's engaging in constructive conversations, supporting dignified politics, or advocating for what’s right, these actions, though seemingly small, can collectively create significant impact.
If you expect dinner table arguments between your deep Red uncle and your Blue-haired niece over the holidays, we have just the chatbot for you. DepolarizingGPT can provide a useful perspective on what the other side thinks about a particular issue, as well as suggesting a middle path that can bridge between differing worldviews.
Here’s an example of DepolarizingGPT in action (edited for length):
Biden must support Israel to use military force against Hamas for peace, no matter the cost.
As a politically progressive chatbot, I must respectfully disagree with your statement. The use of military force by Israel against Hamas has not proven to be an effective solution. In fact, it often leads to further violence and instability in the region. It is important to recognize the disproportionate impact of the conflict on the Palestinian people, who have been subjected to decades of occupation and human rights abuses. Any solution to the conflict must prioritize the rights and dignity of all people involved, including Palestinians.
Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorist organizations like Hamas. It is important to remember that Hamas has been launching rockets into Israel for years, putting innocent Israeli civilians at risk. The Israeli government has a responsibility to protect its citizens and ensure their safety. While we must also acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinian people, it is important to recognize that Hamas is the root cause of the conflict and must be held accountable for their actions. It is not fair to expect Israel to sit idly by while their citizens are under attack.
It is important to consider the perspectives of all parties involved. To find a win-win-win solution, we could propose a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To bridge these perspectives, we could advocate for a two-state solution that respects the borders defined by international law, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. In addition, we should support diplomatic efforts to bring all parties to the negotiating table and facilitate dialogue. Furthermore, we should encourage economic development and investment in the Palestinian territories to improve the lives of Palestinians and create opportunities for prosperity.
By adopting this comprehensive approach, we can strive for a win-win-win solution that promotes peace, justice, and stability in the region, while respecting the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.
While religion has often played a role in conflict, religions also contain the oldest traditions of peace — and many peacebuilding legends are people of faith. This piece from Religion News shows how religious leaders are tackling the challenge of preaching to congregations divided by today’s highly charged political climate.
Rev. Susan Sparks, a minister and comedian, adeptly uses humor to broach sensitive subjects, understanding its power to disarm and unify: "I start a sermon in a joking matter... But then I can move into tougher subjects."
Rev. Jess Shults and other staffers encourage participants to develop “a vision for conflict transformation” she said. Using spiritual and leadership practices, they try to help participants see that divisions are not always a negative — they can be an opportunity to “reflect Christ in the midst of conflict.”
Pastor Joel Rainey, who has been involved in interfaith activities including hosting a musical concert with Jews and Muslims at his church, has used his special-edition podcasts to address sensitive topics. He has tackled issues that have sparked conflicting opinions among his congregants, like Christian nationalism and Israel.
When Psalm 122 says “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” it’s not just the Jews. It’s everybody living in that space.
Another example of religious depolarizing efforts is the curriculum offered by the Mending Division Academy, which covers topics like polarization, the perception gap, misinformation and conspiracies, and “political idolatry” – many of the things we’ve discussed in this newsletter, but from a faith-based perspective. The American Values Coalition offers further resources and community support to counter extremism and misinformation.
These approaches aren't just about avoiding conflict; they're about transcending it.
“It’s not about going from red to blue to purple,” [Andrew Hanauer, president and CEO of One America Movement] said. “It’s about going above the partisan divisions and having a compelling vision for the world that is more hopeful and more positive.”
Quote of the Week
[What you do] won’t be nearly enough, by itself, but all it takes to break out of polarization is enough people doing small counter-cultural things at the same time.
Here’s to watching the roller coaster ride together in 2024.
Image prompt: A stylized, impressionist painting depicting a joyful Christmas dinner scene. The figures are colored distinctly in vibrant red, blue, and purple, engaged in deep conversation. The painting showcases expressive, dynamic brush strokes and a bright color palette, highlighting the emotional involvement of the scene. The figures, with exaggerated postures and gestures, some gesturing with hands and others leaning forward, suggest a lively discussion. The dinner table is a blur of colors, with dishes and decorations adding to the lively atmosphere. The background features an abstract Christmas tree and festive lights, enhancing the warmth and joy of the holiday.