Following the talk, my plan was then to lead a retreat with the women sustainable farmers. In both the speaking and retreat settings, political polarization was ripe with some having recently voted for Republican, Donald Trump and others who had voted for Democrat, Hilary Clinton.
3 Approaches to uncover commonalities, build bridges, and address political polarization:
1. Cultivate curiosity...
During one activity, I asked everyone to pretend we all voted for Donald Trump. We made a list on a flip-chart of all we were hoping to achieve by voting for him. When we had a full list, I then asked everyone to pretend we all voted for Hilary Clinton, and we made a similar list for her.
We then looked at and compared the two lists, we found they were identical. For example, everyone was looking to feel safe. What was different were the personal stories and experiences that led people to come to a different conclusion about how to achieve safety.
2. Start with feelings, then uncover the story...
As people shared their first feelings, I asked them to share stories. The activity unlocked the group's ideals and frustrations about government and enabled us to paint a picture of all a government could be, as well as all its potential pitfalls.
Women shared painful stories, including losing a son to murder, military experiences in the Middle East, and all the conclusions they made from these experiences on how to stay safe. This laid the groundwork for the deeper worldview and values-based work we did next—key stepping stones towards greater intercultural competency.
3. Dig for values and ignite action...
For example, one woman shared that an incompetent man getting the job over an intelligent woman outraged her and, hence, the value at stake was gender equity. Behind each outrage was a personal and often painful story pointing to the essential need to live out the core value at stake. In another example, one woman committed to never staying silent when seeing a more competent woman being passed over for a job in favour of a less competent man. In this way, each value at stake provides a compass to ignite one’s personal commitment to action.
After each woman worked on a worldview and values-based personal inventory activity, each shared their commitment to action moving forward. We heard things like running for local politics, standing up for collaboration on a family-run farm, teaching independence and self-reliance, joining a parents advisory council to ensure fair governance, and much more!
In sum, sharing stories, identifying feelings, and digging for common values are often the first steps to build intercultural competency. Turning those values into personal and collaborative action is a critical next step for mastering this skill.