“If you’re talking to a good person, there has
to be something with which you can resonate.”
In an earlier blog (“One Feminine Principle of Leadership,” March 13, 2012), I proposed that the feminine lead in serving the value of balance. Nice idea, but how do we proceed in this polarized political environment? Within days, a book review offered inspiration.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has chosen The Righteous Mind as the title of his work about why we vote the way we do. It immediately elicits an indignant reaction: “I’m not righteous; they’re the righteous ones!” But he follows with an ingratiating subtitle: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, and the mind opens. His premise is that righteousness is a shared fault and will only be overcome by listening to what the other side has to say. If you’re talking to a good person, there has to be something with which you can resonate. Accommodation will thus begin.
The review of the book by William Saletan was extraordinarily thorough, and I was immediately inspired to test the idea with regard to several issues. All quotations that follow are from the review, not the book.
Haidt begins his work by pointing out that conservatives are dedicated to protecting the social pillars sustained by tradition, and the primary pillar is the family. The intuitive response is positive. How can you be against the idea of family, in spite of the fact that so many are dysfunctional? The problem is that the nature of the family has changed radically, and many different workable combinations have evolved. Those who have the patriarchal, one-submissive-wife form in mind tend to express their preference in terms that the reviewer describes as “racist, sexist, and homophobic.” The key to alignment here is to open to creative variations on the mini-community that the ideal family is.
“Right.” One can envision the personality of liberal affirmation, arms crossed, an arrogant smile on an intelligent face. However, Haidt doesn’t stand for this imaginary moment of triumph. He describes himself as a former liberal partisan and criticizes his earlier peers as intractable because “they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.” A real zinger, and I have to admit a faint wounding.
But back to the family. Conservatives are concerned about welfare programs that have undermined it. Everyone knows that there are people who game the system, and and there is a trend toward illegitimate children among women who don’t want to lose benefits by marrying. This is a matter of concern even among liberals, and a little give and take could result in the adjustment of benefits to correct unintended consequences. The “give” might reasonably include making birth control readily available to impoverished women who would like to create fewer impoverished children. Once the connection is made, conservatives desirous of cutting back on welfare spending may become receptive to this idea.
Now to the issue of gaming the system. Haidt proposes that conservatives value order more than equality. The opposing perspective is that the degree of financial inequality is escalating at an alarming and untenable rate. Let us be frank. The wealthy, our huge corporations, and members of the medical establishment are all among the multitudes who are gaming the system, and they have more resources than the impoverished to maximize their take. If we can all agree that gaming the system is unacceptable on its face, then we can approach reform on multiple fronts that could enhance the perception of equality in this country. The effort might also forestall the brewing disorder conservatives hate, as in the “Occupy Movement.”
These are just a few examples of the ways in which the search for common ground could lead to constructive compromise, and congressional minds may be more open to this strategy than we have heretofore imagined. We are fast approaching the time when a reputation for ineffectiveness could cause many political careers to self-destruct. Jonathan Haidt’s book might enable some of the righteous–on both sides–to grow, survive, and eventually enjoy distinguished careers. Let’s hope the book becomes a bestseller. I’m certainly going to buy a copy.