Dr. Peter T. Coleman is Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University and the author of “The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization.” Dr. Coleman is a renowned expert on constructive conflict resolution and sustainable peace. In this episode, he explains what Toxic Polarization is, how we got here, and a challenge to nudge us forward.
Watch on YouTube
- “We’ve gotten to a state that I see as toxic… it’s an environment where half of Americans have become estranged from someone in their own family over politics… That trickles into the workplace, neighborhoods, buildings, and communities.” [12:50] Dr. Peter T. Coleman, author of The Way Out, explains what Political Polarization is. A little polarization, choice, and differing views are healthy and even good for change and progression. BUT we have gone beyond ‘a little polarization’ through media, the internet, and current society; we have gotten completely toxic.
- “The shocks that took place in the 60’s set us off on a path and there hasn’t been a real correction since then.” [21:58] How did we get here? How did we get to such a place of division and polarization? Dr. Coleman brings it back to the 60’s, a time of major shocks from assassinations and anti-government movements. Events like 9/11 or even COVID, which should have united us and brought us together, have further separated and divided us, creating further contention.
- “We all end up living in these parallel universes where we can believe what they believe, and vice versa.” [23:54] My reality versus your reality— Dr. Coleman calls this ‘American Psychosis’. This is a broken and disillusioned mindset that has occurred due to the isolation, segregation, and extreme polarization characterized by extreme differing political views.
- “So many of us feel powerless because we can’t change structures at the government level. We can’t change the way the media follows a narrative, or the algorithms in social media.” [38:14] Marcel brings to light the feelings of so many who are stuck and feel miserable with this current division. But how can we make change? How can we nudge forward?
- “We get comfortable in our story, our narrative, our values. You have to push yourself to branch out and get other voices.” [40:30] What’s a step toward the way out of toxic polarization? Dr. Coleman suggests finding three ‘frenemies’, trusted people on the other side, and those with differing points of view. You don’t have to understand or agree, but you need to hear them out and make space for differing perspectives. This helps you break past your limited reality.
- “Can you find somebody… it might be in your family, it might be at work, or in your community… that you can reach out to and just listen?” [47:53] Among some of the systems used week by week to break through the polarization, Dr. Coleman encourages you to seek out someone you may know who you don’t see eye to eye with. You can end the meeting agreeing to disagree, but take a walk, get out in nature, and just listen. You may find out you have something to learn on both sides!
- “If you can try and get a sense of ‘I can do this… I can try this out…,’ that gives people a sense of hope. It gives people a sense of efficacy that they can actually do something.” [53:00] Dr. Coleman hopes his readers find hope in his book. We all feel miserable, anxious and lost and it’s important to have a sense of hope and possibility.
Mentioned in this episode:
- The Way Out
- Peter T. Coleman on Twitter
- How to Save the U.S. From a Second Civil War | Time
- Political Courage Challenge
- Starts With Us
- Bridging Divides Initiative
- Marcel Schwantes
Don’t Forget to Subscribe!
Do you love this episode? Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. Apple Podcast | Stitcher | Spotify | Google Podcast
Mailbag — Send Us Your Question
Got a leadership challenge? Need helpful advice? Marcel and Robb have the answer! Send us your Mailbag question by clicking here.
What’s Your Reaction?
We really love feedback! Continue the conversation by using #LoveInActionPodcast to comment on this episode. Or send Marcel a note and let him know what you thought of this episode. Also, please click here to give us a quick review on iTunes!
Now Accepting Podcast Sponsors
We would be delighted to accept your sponsorship for future episodes as we challenge current management thinking and practices and build skills around human leadership and human-centered work cultures. If interested, contact Marcel.