The Pendulum Effect
This past week two events could not have been further apart in either history or effect. The US celebrated America Independence Day with the customary 4th of July celebrations and Greece entered a watershed moment in European history: http://goo.gl/zzXg9C
Considering the broad complexity of what social critic Anna Deavere Smith would call “the American character” (https://goo.gl/CV3sCD
) and the far from clear, emergence of a European identity: http://goo.gl/l3rJI3
, it would be inconceivable to think (http://goo.gl/PP8BQb
) that there is anything but the most abstract of connections between the two peoples, divided by an ocean and living in different continents.
Yet, both are in the grip of a devolution of sorts, their sense of solidarity waning (http://goo.gl/I8U2B4
) as each withdraws into an increased polarization of views (https://goo.gl/7UalmA
) based upon ideology, rather than practicality or, even, common sense.
In a world where ‘conversation’ is a constant and narrative is seen as something that can be analyzed and discussed, polarization, a communication issue (https://goo.gl/4LYrnv
) appears to be winning. The inevitable “why?” may be answered with, perhaps, the issue of identity: http://goo.gl/PP8BQb
which is as core to the European problems as it is to the American ones: http://goo.gl/V8KFgx
. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that after a good, sound, discussion we all end up having wackier notions and ideas than before: http://goo.gl/F12pO6
, but that seems to be exactly what’s happening.
There are several important points here. When polarization occurs, politics becomes more entrenched (https://goo.gl/Z4hyMl
) and its effects more severe: http://goo.gl/tdm2X5
. The middle ground, moderation, becomes no-man’s land, with fewer and fewer people tending to stray there (http://goo.gl/4cvIXz
), and each camp, launches upon an escalating trajectory of vilification of the other until the perception that remains is that of the chasm dividing each side, rather than the similarities that might bring them together.
Those of us who inhabit the digital space may think we are above all that. Politics and ideologies matter less to us than the commonality of the human condition and our willingness to listen to others’ points of view, but that is not entirely true. Politics, in the 21st century, touches everywhere. Points of view on subjects that may appear to be ideological and therefore abstract, translate themselves into actions (http://goo.gl/W8VT2b
) that have real-world impact.
And that’s just it. In the real-world no one lives in a vacuum even if geographic distances and context may differ sufficiently to impact upon what is only important to each group: http://goo.gl/EFhMtp
. What each of us does defines the world we want to see and the world we deserve to get for everyone else. In a connected world we’ve all become each other’s keeper and it’s happened as part of the unintended consequences of connection and interdependency, rather than planning.
It would be great, at this stage, to think that there is a path that’s clear to us. That there is a course of action we can embark upon that will help dispel all fears and provide us with a black & white playbook we can uniformly apply to every situation. Unfortunately as we move across countries, cultures and even socio-economic groups it is our differences, rather than similarities that seem to come to our attention as social psychologist Alana Conner says: https://goo.gl/F0TPC2
G+ sometimes seems to be such an anomaly in its ability to allow so many of us from so many parts of the world to get together and interact without much friction that hardly anyone outside it knows what to make of its culture and its impact. What this social network has mostly done is provided us with the space to engage, learn and grow and the means to do it at our own pace. Empathy, and our ability to learn it:http://goo.gl/4jSuTS
is not something we automatically employ every time we encounter differences and conflict. Increasingly, however, we are learning, by degrees, to be smarter. And in smarts lies power.
Former Liberal Democrats leader Paddy Ashdown (https://goo.gl/eh1Z3z
) in a riveting TED Talk that opens with Houseman’s poem of Shropshire Lad
) explains this shift in power from local (where it is clearly understood and historically regulated) to global (where the rules of the game are still pretty vague). This transition comes with turbulence. Turbulence is what’s experienced in the polarization of US politics and European nationhood. Turbulence is experienced in the lack of empathy and the apparent shrinking of the middle ground of moderation, globally.
We’re experiencing an unusual combination of shifts. We’re ever more powerful and yet more afraid. Ever more capable and yet more uncertain. Ever more connected and yet struggling to understand others. But in our direct experience of turbulence there is also hope. The hope that as turbulence is normal in the context we experience it, so is its opposite. Polarization itself is part of the pendulum effect where, eventually, the sense of ideologies that guide us will have us return to a swing towards consensus, cooperation, greater understanding and empathy. How soon that happens, how well, is really dependent upon us. All of us. Each of us. The effort we’re prepared to make and the thinking we’re ready to do. And the time is now.
I hope you’ve managed to plan ahead. Coffee, chocolate cake, croissants, cookies and donuts are what power Sundays. I am beginning to think that should we fail to get all these provisions we may well adversely affect the health of the confectionery industry and the well-being of coffee growers everywhere. Have one awesome Sunday, wherever you are. For regular Sunday Read updates subscribe to the Collection: https://goo.gl/qFWeXk