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  • benjaminnewman01

Mod. 5.1 - People Before Politics

This week, I’d like you to engage in an empathy exercise to continue strengthening your ability to make space for other truths, seek understanding, and find complementary across difference. The activity, Put People Before Politics, comes to us from the good folks at The People’s Supper. Please see pages 48-50 in the Bridging Differences Playbook for complete instructions, associated research, and many other highly relevant tips and tools.

  • Pick someone you would like to understand better and who you believe has different political views from you.

  • Next, walk through the five prompts listed in the exercise shared in the Bridging Differences Playbook.

  • As you engage in deep listening, jot down any relevant notes in the following empathy map, which will help you focus on what you hear and reveal more nuanced insights that may reside below the surface.


Bridging Differences Playbook: Intrapersonal Characteristics

  1. Assume Good Intentions

    1. Entering a conversation with the sense that the other person dislikes or distrusts you—or has a nefarious agenda—may put you in an anxious mindset that negatively affects your interaction. By assuming that the other person is approaching your interaction from a place of goodwill, it will likely go better for both of you.

  2. Practice Mindfulness

    1. Research suggests we can reduce social biases by building moment-to moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings through practices like meditation.

  3. Expand Your Activities, Expand Your Views

    1. Through exposure to new people, events, and experiences, we can broaden our own sense of what’s comfortable and familiar to us. Popular ways to do this include traveling or consuming media outside of your typical feed.

  4. Seek and Promote Counter-Stereotypical Information

    1. The stereotypes we hold about other people or groups can dictate how we treat them. But as we’re exposed to information that challenges those stereotypes, our views can become more positive—and our behavior may follow.

  5. Focus on Individuality, not Group Identity

    1. We often see others in terms of their group membership: He’s old, she’s white, they’re immigrants. But according to research, when we view people in terms of their own individual tastes and preferences, we feel less threatened by those who might seem “not like us.”


In a fateful moment of irony, I actually had the chance to engage with the principles in this exercise during a previously scheduled meeting this week. The differences between us were not political, but the pre-existing tension at the onset of the meeting was amplified due to technical misalignment and the natural human response of being frustrated with technology. That additional element aside, I could see the other person had a bit of a bone to pick with me. I entered the conversation focusing on the five intrapersonal practices outlined in the Bridging Differences Playbook and by the end of the time, we had found resolution and forward direction.

The topic underneath the tension behind this conversation was ageism. This person had a sense that I tend to generalize about the lived experience, values and worldviews of older generations. I immediately sensed a bit of personal agitation that was coupled with a point of view that directly contradicted the generalizations I represented to them. For context, I’ve shared on a few different occasions that I generally struggle relating to and successfully interacting with many members of older generations. I’ve done a lot of self-reflection to identify within myself why I struggle with it, but I’ve not been able to successfully translate those learnings into better experiences and interactions with older folx.

If I had to identify one component that I’ve found contributes to this lack of compatibility, it’s that I unconsciously send signals that create a perception that I do not hold respect for older people. I’m not sure what those signals are, but the consistency with which I’ve had this experience leads me to believe it’s true. In order to apply the 5 prompts of Bridging Differences, I made sure that I acknowledged the perception right away and immediately asked for their counsel and recommendations on how I could move away from them and if they could clarify their perception and share an example of my tendency to generalize. While not a direct correlation to the first 3 prompts, I applied them during my preparation in advance of the call. I knew the other person had good intentions and wouldn’t intentionally aim to disrespect me, and that my previous mindfulness practice of self-reflection had clued me into this tendency, so I chose to expand my views by leading with vulnerability, acknowledging the topic, and requesting their honest feedback.

The conversation that followed began to relieve the tension by providing space for the other person to share their thoughts and rationale behind why my generalizations not only were personally offensive, but also went against years of evidence generated from numerous research studies from prestigious surveyors that promoted counter-stereotypical information and gave me resources to facilitate a change in my perspective. Right now, as I consider the fifth prompt to focus on individuality and not group identity, I realize that I could have and should have done more to acknowledge this person’s individual experience and the potential harm or hurt my poor habit and viewpoint may have caused them. I need to follow up with them and thank them for their time, willingness to engage with me on the topic, and acknowledge the personal side of how our interaction may have left them feeling like I didn’t quite fully “get it” at the end of our conversation.

Speaking to the conclusion, I did try to bridge the gap between us by offering a path forward in accountability, if they would be open to it. This person and I will have consistent interactions over the coming weeks, and I asked if they would be open and willing to keep this topic in mind as we mutually engage in our work together and schedule check-ins to share their perception around my progress in the area. They responded very favorably and I think it also created a mutually shared purpose that we could look forward to engaging with throughout the course of our ongoing relationship.

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