“Incrementalism” Can Bring Us Together

America has not been this divided and disconnected since the Civil War. We live in an “Us vs Them” view of solutions to social problems. Opposing solutions that require big changes in the way we see things are not working. But, maybe by focusing instead on small changes that build upon one another, over time we can accomplish a middle ground that won’t alienate us.

I recently learned about the concept and value of incrementalism. In a recent article for PersuasionGreg Berman and Aubrey Fox make this statement about the current state of politics: “We believe that incremental reform is the best way to address social problems in a climate where it is difficult to agree on basic facts, let alone expensive, large-scale government interventions”.

Incrementalism is also used in the Steps of Living-Connected. Let me illustrate with a story that my friend Dave shared with me.  He ran into an old friend, let’s call her Linda, who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Although they have been friends for a long time, their time together most often ends with a contentious discussion about some political issue. 

This time it was the government’s role in education. This has become one of the most divisive issues in our American lives and Linda was passionate about her position. Dave’s inclination was to respectfully disagree and make his case based on facts. Well, we all know what happens when we take opposing stands with passionate people. Both dig in trying to win the other over, things get heated, and the only position moving is the dial on the thermostat rising. Their mutual goal to win the argument, more times than not, leads to frustration and disconnection from each other.

What if, instead, Dave practiced the Steps of Living-Connected? Instead of trying to change Linda’s mind or defend his position with facts, which rarely works, what if Dave focused on Linda’s story and why she was so passionate about her stand? What if he made the sacrifice to just be present and listen, to be curious and genuinely interested in what she is saying, trying to understand and feel where her passion comes from? Dave could use Step 3, being curious, to ask clarifying questions so that she can feel better understood. Then, unexpectedly, without agreeing with her, affirm something about her story.

What if Dave could use the Steps as a way of changing Linda’s view of him and their relationship? Perhaps Linda would feel validation and connection with Dave instead of focusing on their opposite political views and the need to win Dave over. Maybe disarming the contentious nature of their friendship can lead to an appreciation of each other’s position in the future.

No one wins the argument, but just maybe Dave wins the right to be heard at some point because of his soul-healing connection that places a higher focus on her rather than his differing views. Otherwise, reinforcing the friendship and connecting first, then building on that, is an incremental approach to living more connected and possibly getting to a middle ground later.

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