Consensus building in American politics is tough, if not impossible. We recently hosted retired U.S. Senator Larry Pressler who, among a career of good work and solid policymaking in the House and Senate is known as the only Member of Congress approached in the ABSCAM sting operation (Remember American Hustle?) to have refused the bribe–and then contacted the FBI to report it. As a political moderate and centrist in many of his views, his report on the state of finding middle ground was not encouraging.
How can citizens in the U.S. political culture overcome bigotry and contempt of the others side, weakening what Arthur C. Brooks calls “The Polarization Industrial Complex”?
The current polarization in America obstructs this kind of collaboration. So what’s the antidote? I asked the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s experts on bringing people together. He made two points. First, the solution starts not with institutions, but with individuals. We look too much to political parties or Congress to make progress, but not nearly enough at our own behavior.You can’t single-handedly change the country, but you can change yourself. By declaring your independence from the bitterness washing over our nation, you can strike a small blow for greater national unity.Second, each of us must aspire to what the Dalai Lama calls “warmheartedness” toward those with whom we disagree. This might sound squishy, but it is actually tough and practical advice. As he has stated, “I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends.” He is not advocating surrender to the views of those with whom we disagree. Liberals should be liberals and conservatives should be conservatives. But our duty is to be respectful, fair and friendly to all, even those with whom we have great differences.