The skill with which we use language ultimately determines whether freedom’s song is sung in perfect harmony.
Healing words can create openings for real dialogue, but hurtful words can close down a dialogue. In the global economy, citizenship carries with it a new responsibility: We must build strategic vocabularies and create purposeful action plans. We need to do more than vote. Each of us must help manage political conflicts, challenge biases and constantly seek the higher ground.
Below are a few ideas to ponder in this election season:
Choose words wisely
Use a vocabulary that can create conversational openings. For example, say, “Help me to explore this issue through your cultural lens.” Use polite, affirming and inclusive language.
Look for an opportunity to say, “I see your point” or “That’s an interesting perspective.” In crucial dialogues, replace the word “you” and “them” with the words “we” and “us.”
Let go of loaded language that shuts down meaningful dialogue. Avoid words such as “racists” and “bigots.”
Challenge your biases
Seek out positive information about groups that you may view in a negative light.
For example, if you think women are catty, then make a mental note every time you see women demonstrating supportive and nurturing behaviors. Unless you consciously look for behaviors or facts that contradict your beliefs, your blind spots might keep you from seeing the world as it is.
If you believe your views are the only ones with legitimacy, then you restrict growth for yourself and your community.
A diversity of views is problematic only when there is a skills gap. We should handle tensions so they do not impair our ability to make evidence-based decisions.
We must accept that there are many ways to view issues, and each perspective may offer a path to collaboration and new knowledge.
Be a team player
Hard work and good intentions will not bridge political and cultural divisions. Each of us needs to develop new competencies to support diverse views.
We must audit our actions, language and beliefs and make regular adjustments. We must empathize with others and respond accordingly. We must be patient with those who were taught to be prejudiced.
We must become culturally agile and able to see through one another’s eyes. We must monitor and control our emotions so we can effectively participate in crucial conversations.
The anger, hatred and prejudices that reside within us can destroy us over time.
When we let go of them, we free ourselves from a prison that restricts our creativity and keeps us locked up in the past.