BRIDG­ING PO­LIT­I­CAL DI­VIDES

An oc­ca­sional “Like” on chal­lenger's Face­book com­ment could lessen the so­cial poisin just a lit­tle bit

Business World - - OPINION - BEN­ITO L. TEEHANKEE

Filipinos have been char­ac­ter­ized as highly tol­er­ant peo­ple. Our pref­er­ence for har­mony, in­di­rect­ness, and col­lec­tivism has been com­mented on by so­cial an­a­lysts of the lo­cal psy­che. In fact, our tol­er­ance and agree­able­ness have some­times been crit­i­cized as be­ing a na­tional fault that has en­cour­aged bul­lies, op­pres­sive lead­ers, and even the in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized abuse of mar­tial law.

I fa­vor can­did ex­changes of views and dis­ap­prove of those who im­pose their views on oth­ers, es­pe­cially when they do it in a coarse and un­civil way. I en­joy a healthy de­bate over im­por­tant is­sues, but I think each per­son has an in­her­ent right to a point of view. Be­sides, so­cial re­al­i­ties are so com­plex that no one per­son can claim a mo­nop­oly of wis­dom on mat­ters such as crime pre­ven­tion, par­ent­ing, politics, sex, faith, and busi­ness.

The prob­lem today is that the pen­du­lum has swung to the other side. Be­cause of the In­ter­net, we are now more ex­posed to dif­fer­ent ideas that are of­ten op­posed to ours. We weren’t pre­pared for this kind of di­ver­sity of views. In­tol­er­ance, in­ci­vil­ity, and trib­al­ism have be­come the com­mon state of af­fairs be­tween President Duterte’s sup­port­ers and those who op­pose him. These two groups don’t just dis­agree with each other; they of­ten char­ac­ter­ize each other as evil, or at the very least, morally sus­pect. As a re­sult, con­struc­tive ex­changes of views are al­most nonex­is­tent.

Of course, this wors­en­ing an­i­mos­ity over po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences is not just hap­pen­ing here. The Amer­i­cans and the Bri­tish are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing deep di­vides among them­selves that seem worse than what they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in the past.

For ex­am­ple, a sur­vey by the Pew Research Cen­ter among Amer­i­cans shows that the numbers of Repub­li­cans and Democrats with very un­fa­vor­able views of the op­pos­ing party have grown. Worse, the numbers say­ing the other party threat­ens the na­tion’s well-be­ing have also in­creased by al­most 10 per­cent­age points from two years ago! What’s go­ing on? Research done by so­cial psy­chol­o­gists on in­group con­flicts can pro­vide help­ful clues to un­der­stand these wor­ri­some de­vel­op­ments. More im­por­tantly, we can try to do some things to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion, es­pe­cially if it in­volves peo­ple and is­sues we care about. Jonathan Haidt, an Amer­i­can so­cial psy­chol­o­gist who wrote The Right­eous Mind: Why Good Peo­ple Are Di­vided by Politics and Re­li­gion, ex­plains that peo­ple be­come po­lar­ized on po­lit­i­cal is­sues be­cause they pri­or­i­tize dif­fer­ent prin­ci­ples of moral­ity.

For ex­am­ple, based on an on­line sur­vey of more than 20,000 Amer­i­cans, Haidt found out that most con­ser­va­tives value in- group loy­alty and au­thor­ity very highly while lib­er­als do not. Lib­er­als highly value open­ness to other peo­ple and new ex­pe­ri­ences and pre­fer to ques­tion au­thor­ity while con­ser­va­tives do not.

Haidt says that “lib­er­als speak for the weak and op­pressed and want change and jus­tice even at the risk of chaos.” Haidt ex­plains that in con­trast, “con­ser­va­tives speak for in­sti­tu­tions and tra­di­tions; they want or­der even at cost to those at the bot­tom.”

Is it pos­si­ble that strong sup­port­ers of President Duterte are like Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tives who pri­or­i­tize au­thor­ity in sup­port of so­cial or­der? Could the President’s crit­ics be closer to the Amer­i­can lib­er­als who pri­or­i­tize de­fend­ing the weak? If so, then we can un­der­stand why they don’t trust each other on how to deal with the drug is­sue. They tend to see the other side as a threat to the coun­try’s well-be­ing, but only from their own lim­ited moral lens. Their trib­al­ism tends to con­firm their bi­ases about the other side.

Here’s the thing: Haidt points out that both sides are right. For a so­ci­ety to sur­vive, it needs au­thor­ity as well as car­ing for the weak and op­pressed. It needs or­der as well as open­ness to oth­ers. But a good thing car­ried to an ex­treme can be a vice.

Haidt con­cludes, “Moral­ity binds and blinds. It binds us into ide­o­log­i­cal teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world de­pended on our side win­ning each bat­tle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is com­posed of good peo­ple who have some­thing im­por­tant to say.”

So, it doesn’t make sense to de­mo­nize the other side. So­ci­ety is not nec­es­sar­ily a fight be­tween good and evil. The key is to sus­tain con­ver­sa­tions on how dif­fer­ent moral pri­or­i­ties can be pur­sued in a bal­anced way.

What can we do to have more civil po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions? Let us reach out in a friendly way to peo­ple from the other side and ac­knowl­edge their valid con­cerns whether in per­son or over so­cial me­dia. For ex­am­ple, an oc­ca­sional “Like” on a chal­lenger’s Face­book com­ment could lessen the so­cial poi­son just a lit­tle bit. Then, let us calmly share our own con­cerns. In this re­spect­ful spirit, creative op­tions can emerge.

DR. BEN­ITO L. TEEHANKEE is Full Pro­fes­sor of Man­age­ment and Or­ga­ni­za­tion at De La Salle Univer­sity and Vice-Chair of the CSR Com­mit­tee of the Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion of the Philip­pines. ben­ito.teehankee @dlsu.edu.ph

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