The partisan divide in the United States has widened to a chasm. Legislators vote along party lines and rarely cross the aisle. Political polarization is personal, too—and it is making us miserable. Surveys show that Americans have become more fearful and hateful of supporters of the opposing political party and imagine that they hold much more extreme views than they actually do. We have cordoned ourselves off: we prefer to date and marry those with similar opinions and are less willing to spend time with people on the other side. How can we loosen the grip of this toxic polarization and start working on our most pressing problems?
The Way Out offers an escape from this morass. The social psychologist Peter T. Coleman explores how conflict resolution and complexity science provide guidance for dealing with seemingly intractable political differences. Deploying the concept of attractors in dynamical systems, he explains why we are stuck in this rut as well as the unexpected ways that deeply rooted oppositions can and do change. Coleman meticulously details principles and practices for navigating and healing the difficult divides in our homes, workplaces, and communities, blending compelling personal accounts from his years of working on entrenched conflicts with lessons from leading-edge research. The Way Out is a vital and timely guide to breaking free from the cycle of mutual contempt in order to better our lives, relationships, and country.
Columbia University psychology professor Coleman (Making Conflict Work) offers a science-based guide to "escap the grip of partisan contempt" in the U.S. Contending that 50 years of escalating political tensions have led to a "mass national psychotic break" in which those on the right and those on the left "experience fundamentally different realities," Coleman explores the cognitive reasons why people adopt rigid, overly simplistic ideologies when faced with the most complex and difficult challenges. He draws on case studies in conflict resolution, including the de-escalation of tensions between activists for and against abortion rights in 1990s Boston, to explain how turning off the news when it becomes agitating, seeking out diverse perspectives, and placing divisive issues in a broader context can help create the "contradictory complexity" needed to disrupt hyperpolarization. The story of a group of diplomats who came up with novel solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after taking a bumpy bus ride together leads to a discussion of neuroplasticity and how physical movement can help people to find their way out of "entrenched patterns." Drawing from physics, psychology, and neuroscience, Coleman's multidisciplinary approach yields fresh insights and reasons for hope. Policymakers and community activists will want to take note.