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