DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

An Asteroid Impacting Innovation

Written by: on February 27, 2020

Innovation excels with diversity of thought, skills, and importance. As I consider the future of the US and the complex (“wicked”) problems facing it, I see a desperation for creative and innovative solutions, yet an apathy for “reaching across the aisle” in faith and politics. No one side has the worldview, resources, or perspective to solve these problems. Even more, we can’t even agree on the problems across party lines let alone work together for solutions. A disparity of wealth is only a problem to one side, where the breakdown of traditional marriage is only a problem for the other. Like a planet doomed for apocalypse, an asteroid is headed for our ability to collaborate innovatively with a diverse people, and it’s labeled “Polarization.”

Enter moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt into this conversation. As a self-proclaimed moderate liberal, adherent to Judaism, and tenured professor, Haidt is a welcomed voice of sanity. Motivated by the increasing polarity in politics, Haidt set out to investigate the misses he was seeing in communications and appealing to different morality structures in political conversations (among other things). His work, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, is the surprising result. I think his biggest contributions to collaborative innovate are his findings of intuitions trumping reason, his articulation of differing morality pillars, and his emphasis on shared relationships with those carrying opposing viewpoints. 

Intuitions trumping reason

For Haidt, the Enlightenment claim that the human species is on an objective, unbiased search for truth is ludicrous. We don’t reason our way into believing; we believe our way into reasoning (58-59).  Like our own press secretaries justifying our behavior and beliefs post-hoc, our subjectivity, moral blindness, and confirmation bias cripple our ability to capture the whole picture (91-92). This should produce some caution and some self awareness in controversial issues, humanizing the other side.

Differing morality foundations

Haidt also offers a moral foundations theory that offers five facets of morality (184). Furthermore he found that conservatives had a more multifaceted approach to morality than their fellow humans on the left. (Remember Haidt is a liberal, critiquing “his own.”)

Haidt’s facets of moral foundation include:

  1. Care/harm
  2. Fairness/cheating 

(liberals can only see these first two, according to Haidt)

  1. Loyalty/Betrayal
  2. Authority/Subversion
  3. Sanctity/Degradation

Shared relationship

Haidt contests that relating and authentic connection is the best antidote for polarization (370-371). The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people that we like, but who oppose our ideological preferences. Without relationship, we continue in the morality that not only binds us in subgroups, but blinds us to certain problems (219).

Where Haidt falls short is his avoidance of asking the next question – “What might motivate someone to understand the other side?” The back cover of my copy of the book invites those who are “ready to trade in anger for understanding” to read this book. I don’t see many who are ready for such a trade. Understanding simply to convert, rooted in tribalism, isn’t a deep enough motivation. He offers the suggestion of shared problems, but I don’t see this gaining the traction he optimistically hopes for.

What Christians Can Offer

Christians have a profound offering in this space. Christianity contains the resources in which to build a broader identity, embody humility, and an exemplar of empathy and solidarity. First, an identity. The book of Ephesians contains 42 imperatives (cue the Douglas Adams fans), and only one of those work their way into the first half of the book. Verses 12 and 13 say:

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

In other words, we were the “other,” now we are brought in. We were “they,” now we are “us.” If our core identity is “one who has been brought in,” wouldn’t the natural outworking of that truth lead to compassion, understanding and concern for the outsider? This should bread a humility and a smaller inner world, where my ethnicity, gender, nationality, and political views are secondary, allowing for others to be “in” as well. A life other than this described is “out of line” (think Galatians 2) with the gospel. The heart of our faith is someone (some One) moving towards the “other,” not simply understanding our plight, and not only being moved with compassion, but resolving and setting his face towards Jerusalem, giving of himself so that we might be brought in. Being steeped in that story provides resources for which to learn, listen and understand (at a minimum!). 

In Sum

I’ve borrowed the framing metaphor of an impending asteroid from Haidt himself. He has created the Asteroid Club (http://asteroidsclub.org/) as one way to act out finding not common ground, but a common threat to rally around. Before collaboration is even an option, a mere understanding and humanizing of the other side is a precondition. Haidt offers perspectives and even some prescriptions for being able to create an environment where civil discourse is undertaken. Before we innovate around the societal wicked problems facing the US, we must first fight this first problem of polarization. Being able to converse with, collaborate with, and learn from others is of vital importance for innovating around society’s most wicked problems.  Lord, save us from Polarization – the apocalyptic asteroid.

___

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (New York: Vintage Books, 2012)

About the Author

mm

Shawn Cramer

10 responses to “An Asteroid Impacting Innovation”

  1. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Shawn,
    First, are you organizing a chapter of The Asteroids Club in your town?
    Second, how do you see bridging the gap between the different streams of Christians, or even broader, religious leaders? Here in Portland there’s a group called the Common Table comprised of various religious leaders. They meet a few times a year to discuss ways to support one another in their ministry endeavors. They don’t agree on all things, but they do commit to working together to bring about change for the most vulnerable in our communities. Does Cru partner with other organizations vastly different than themselves to work for understanding and change? What other efforts are you seeing in your community along these lines? How effective have they been?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      Haha. No, but I find his tangible attempts admirable. Cru doesn’t typically partner well outside predictable lanes, which is something to lament. I am a fan of Leslie Newbigin here would assert (with Haidt) that common ground is found only with common mission (common enemies for Haidt). I find attempts to rally under common ground or unity for the sake of unity as losing momentum very quickly. What have you seen?

  2. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Where once the church was sanctuary for those of differing opinions and backgrounds, now it has become a battleground for many as they fight over the political issues of our day. The lost of humanization is something that I’ve seen unfold over the last year in Hong Kong as the polarization between pro-democracy and pro-establishment parties gets wider and wider. I’ve heard people refer to the police as “dogs” and refer to the protestors as “cockroaches” and the effect is jarring. Language matters. The words we use matter. As soon as we stop seeing people as humans and view them as the other, it becomes so easy to demonize them. Part of the job as the church (as you’ve mentioned) is to cultivate an identity is open to all as a safe place. What does it take to move the church into that direction again?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      I’ve think you’ve identified a good place to start – language. In my post, I purposely tried to use humane terms like “brothers or sisters on the other side,” “fellow humans,” and the like. Once a person is turned into a “they,” and less than human (literally… 3/5ths!), then our internal “press secretary” can justify just about any actions towards those dogs and monsters.

  3. mm John McLarty says:

    My frustration throughout the book was how Haidt provided a whole bunch of analysis and not much in the way of action. The book is “why” we’re divided, not “what” we might do about it. But you’ve illustrated how we could use the information to take the next steps. I explored “civilpolitics.org” and found some resources and suggestions there. I don’t know how long it will take for us to repair the deep divisions, but it’s good to know there are more people taking up the work!

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      I think I will post about this next week with they climate of the university campus but Haidt also oversees Open Mind and pointed toward Let Grow for helping young people. Also, he suggests more civics courses in high school and dropping every math after algebra. Also, he is calling for a reform of the congressional calendar that would put different parties in closer proximity with one another in informal situations (which changed in the 90s). Lots of practical suggestions, which is refreshing from an academic, isn’t it?

      • Darcy Hansen says:

        I watched that video, too. It was remarkable how changes have unintended consequences. The solutions sounded feasible and doable. Though…more unintended consequences would occur. Iteration needs to be a consistent practice, it seems. But in large organizations I imagine that’s difficult to do.

  4. mm Steve Wingate says:

    a mere understanding and humanizing of the other side is a precondition

    Today I saw a very overweight person (huge), a man lost in drunkenness, beggers, 3 children who were probably eligible for 1st or 2nd grade but not in school playing in a truck that was not their own, it was very sad. My thoughts went to the mother inside the house smoking dope with a man who was not her husband. I went from sadness to anger because at one time that was me.

    Shawn, we can’t fix everything, we don’t always need an advocate! We need to also teach others how to advocate for themselves.

  5. mm Greg Reich says:

    Shawn,
    Interesting you referred to Ephesians in your blog. I appreciate the fact that in Ephesians 6 after talking about the household codes and the importance of walking in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ he lets us know that people aren’t the enemy. Paul explains we a fighting a spiritual enemy not of flesh and blood. When facing the craziness in this world I think we often forget that one of the strategies of the enemy is to divide and cause confusion. Though some of what we see can be fixed by having deep conversation with others we would do well to remember who the real enemy is. We as Christians sign on understanding the spiritual side of our need for Christ why to we then neglect to see the spiritual battle as real and part of the solution?

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Innovation. Different innovation. Paradigm-shift regarding our innovation in dialogue concerning issues that require a listening beyond ‘own’ context and ‘own’ desire and ‘own’ opinions. How do we step into the middle together? That space where we (and, all out stuff) are not. Is it only there that we could possibly look out at all of it and consider a new innovation for help?

    Interesting that only liberals can see the first two of the moral foundations you listed.

    (Care/harm)
    (Fairness/cheating)

    I don’t understand why?
    What is it (some deeper thing) that causes such a disconnect of morals between people?

    Some even see poverty as a commodity.

    K, I may be starting down a rabbit-trail here. Thankful for you, bro. Thank you for sharing your deep insights regarding innovation and encourage such a view in the way we think. Toward being an innovative thinker!

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