Why Democrats and Republicans Cannot Get Along
Why Democrats and Republicans cannot get along you ask?
We are as humans inherently righteous. That is the basic premise of Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Starting from this premise makes it much easier to understand how “Uncle Joe” or “Aunt Susie” can be such a nice person and easy to get along with, until it comes to politics and religion. Why Democrats and Republicans cannot get along is a mystery for anyone in the middle, and I think a passion for those on the extremes.
Perhaps you are like me and know people you genuinely like, and share many common interests, but that are also on the opposite end of the political spectrum. Talking politics is a futile exercise because they are never persuaded by ANY facts or reasoning. They hold to their beliefs stubbornly regardless of new information or examples that would seem to obviously discredit or disprove a belief.
Beginning with the basic premise that humans are inherently righteous, rather than the more commonly held belief that we are inherently rational and fair, makes this easy to understand. One critical factor that allowed humans to differentiate themselves from other animals early on was our ability to form cohesive groups or teams that functioned together as a unit.
It was our ability to form common beliefs and hold on to them mercilessly that kept the group together. Strong beliefs also draw a distinct line between us and them. “Them” is on the outside, and all of “us” are on the inside. These same basic instincts act today to put our allegiances blindly into one political camp or the other. Once we form a belief that we are “liberal” or “conservative” it is very difficult to change these beliefs or to allow any new information into our heads that might help this transformation.
Why is this? At the heart of this myopic behavior is a very simple fact that is counter intuitive to how most of us view ourselves and humans in general. Most of us live under the illusion that we are rational and strategic beings. We believe our rationality makes our decisions, manages our emotions, and guides our behavior: nothing could be more false.
Why Democrats and Republicans cannot get along? Mr. Haidt does an excellent job of elucidating how our emotions, and a collection of other mental processes that we are completely unaware of, make our decisions and guide our behaviors, and our rationality merely attempts to justify these beliefs and behaviors after the fact.
“If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you.” – Haidt
He compares our mental make-up to a rider and an elephant, where the rider serves the wishes of the elephant:
“The rider is our conscious reasoning – the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99% of mental processes – the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.” – Haidt
How do we know this is true? Well many studies have demonstrated this phenomenon, for which Mr. Haidt does an excellent job of sharing. One of these examples I address in my video “Why Democrats and Republicans Cannot Get Along”.
The study takes a random cross section of adults and divides them into two rooms. In both rooms they are given articles that are written with an extreme bias opposite of each other. So in room “A” they read articles that argued persuasively that the ideal fireman is someone that is predisposed to take risks and has a hero mentality. In room “B” they were given articles that persuasively argued the ideal fireman was someone predisposed to be cautious, strategic, and risk adverse.
After reading the articles the two groups were put into the same room and given an exam that asked them through a series of questions to identify the better fire fighter response to a specific incident. Predictably room “A” participants answered consistently that riskier behavior equaled the better fire fighter response, and room “B” participants argued that safe and thoughtful behavior was the better response.
What is fascinating, and enlightening, is that after both groups were told that the information they read was false and misleading, and designed with the sole purpose of leading them to make a specific conclusion, after they were shown the opposite article from the other room, more than half of the participants retained the original belief they formed during the first exercise.
Why Democrats and Republicans cannot get along? Once we as humans form a belief about something, it is very difficult for us to change that belief regardless of any new information we are provided.
This and other fascinating insights into how humans actually function are critical to building solid teams capable of Dynamic Discourse. The first question we have people ask before beginning any Dynamic Discourse conversation is “Am I willing to be influenced?” Until we understand how we work, we will waste precious time in a futile exercise of persuading the “rider”. Sales people can relate this to spending months selling the wrong person in an organization. The “rider” is not the decision maker, and will only frustrate us with deeper and deeper deflection and myopia. Its job is to defend our beliefs and behaviors, not to change them.
Want to understand more about Why Democrats and Republicans cannot get along and other topics? Book Wayne Bennett as a speaker at your next conference or corporate meeting.TeamWork Training