You may recall the following forms of conflict from one of your secondary English literature or composition courses:
- Man vs. Man
- Man vs. Nature
- Man vs. Society
- Man vs. Self
Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but it’s fair to say that almost every tale, story, novel, movie, or TV show going back thousands of years contains some form of conflict. We can’t get enough of it – to the point that there is almost a formula for summer and December blockbuster movies.
This week, a group of education leaders from across the state convened at Jeffco’s Warren Tech to discuss the nature of the conversation on public education. CSU professor Martin Carcasson presented on the current state of hyper-polarization and some of the root causes for that.
Carcasson indicates that our forms of problem solving and governing (i.e. adversarial court systems, winner-take-all elections, yes or no votes on incredibly complicated issues, and the existence of two oppositional political parties) don’t lend themselves to collaboration and understanding. But that’s just part of the issue.
Even more deeply, Carcasson pointed to brain science findings, and how the architecture of the human brain also contributes to this problem. Specifically, Carcasson noted:
- We crave certainty and consistency.
- We are suckers for the good vs. evil narrative.
- We strongly prefer to gather with the like minded.
- We filter & cherry pick evidence to support our views.
- We avoid values dilemmas, tensions, and tough choices.
None of this bodes well for our hopes to emerge from this era of acrimony on the national, state, and local levels when it comes to public decision-making. Yet, this is exactly the kind of difficult engagement work we need to do.
I remember when I was in graduate school at Seton Hall, Sarah and I spent summers in the NYC area while I attended classes. One night (with Sarah over-ruling my objection) we saw the Broadway show Wicked. To summarize (without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it), there is more to the mean old Wicked Witch’s story than we know. And, once we get to know the green-skinned Elphaba as a person and understand her circumstances and options, we start to empathize with her choices and actions.
Here in Jeffco, I have no illusions of some grand coming-together in the near future. Especially in the current election atmosphere, where the goal seems to be scoring points and trying to amplify the scant into the scandalous.
But, I think we need to consider the long-game here. Looking beyond November, how might we create conversations where we are hearing and valuing each other? That’s certainly a question I’m wrestling with – and it’s safe to expect some kind of opportunity to engage … post November.
Feel free to share some of your thoughts and ideas, and I’ll respond when I can.