The word “partisanship” is often used to represent someone’s tendency to ruthlessly subscribe to a particular political belief. In the context of this article however, it will be used to describe those who simply engage in any ideological battle, without politics being a focal point.
Extreme partisanship can lead to thoughtless action. Partisan ideologies make their mark on society at large as well as on those around the dinner table. Bias is often rampant in the minds of those who subscribe to partisan beliefs. The individual’s identity, as it establishes a connection with their viewpoints, becomes important to protect. People say what they believe, and they believe things that represent who they are. Far too often, a criticism of what they say is interpreted as an attack on their beliefs; and thereby their identity as a whole.
Two partisan sides do well to drive each other off the ideological cliff. As if playing a game of chicken whilst headed straight off that cliff, neither side seems to want to be the first to hit the brakes. Extreme partisanship is birthed when either side of a particular issue takes a step toward an objectively extreme point of view. The other side of the issue, can either let them take that step, or adopt an equally extreme viewpoint of their own. And so it goes, like a pendulum which keeps growing in momentum, until both sides adopt views extreme enough to cause pain to themselves and many others.
This article will attempt to present points on how to limit this cycle of extreme partisanship from gaining momentum. You may be an executive managing your employees’ attempts to organize a union, or may simply be a bipartisan onlooker of a partisan debate. The points below aim to be universal in their application, and center around illuminating extremist stances in an undesirable light.
Make Extremists Feel Alone, Not Bad or Evil
In a partisan social setting, the extremists on both sides of an issue lead the way for others to further deviate from sensible beliefs. Extremists are akin to test subjects for ideologies which are growing out of control. Those who perceive the extremists on their side of an issue to be effective in the communication of their message will slowly begin to adopt those extreme beliefs themselves. Disturbing, and putting a stop to, that implicit recruitment process early entails distancing extremists from sensible individuals on that same team.
If you’re overseeing two groups of people who are partisan in their ideologies or views, start looking for those who take the extreme stance on both sides. Once you figure out who the most extreme propellers of a certain ideology are on both sides, the next step would be to turn others on their side against them. The goal, is to paint extremists in an unfavorable light.
The importance of performing this exercise on both sides of an issue without exhibiting bias is of utmost importance. Your efforts will work against you if you’re in any way partisan yourself. Remember, the goal is to limit extreme partisanship, which includes removing those who pull the hardest in this game of tug of war. If you remove the strongest pullers on one side of this game, the other side would be able to dominate in their efforts. If you’re set on being equal and fair in your removal of the strongest pullers on both sides of an issue in an effort to limit partisanship, then your chances of success increase.
Once you’ve identified the extremists on both sides, think of ways to make them feel alone. Do not label them as bad, hurtful, evil, or malicious. Simply yearn to make them seem undesirable to others on their own team. An understanding that the extremists on our side of an issue are alone in their stance doesn’t entice us to want to join them in their lonely rhetoric. If we perceive them to be bad, damaging, or evil, our chances of joining them increase. Some people find the idea of being seen as bad, damaging, or evil to be romantic, and wouldn’t hesitate to be labeled as such.
Making extremists feel alone primarily entails exposing how their actions and rhetoric hurt the goals of the sensible collective on their side of an issue.
The people who are pushing for a union to be established for instance, would consist of a sensible majority, and an extreme minority. In an effort to limit how many from the sensible majority join those in the extreme minority, you need to focus your efforts on showing the sensible majority how the extreme minority hurts their chances of getting what they want.
Perhaps the extremists act in embarrassing ways, and don’t facilitate conversation. Perhaps their demands are so outrageous, that it’ll encourage decision makers to simply walk away and not negotiate at all. Try your best to find ways the extremists on any side of an issue hurt the cause of the sensible majority on that very same team. Make extremists feel alone, and advertise the pathway toward extremism as being a lonely one, not malicious or bad.
Once again, it’s critical that you don’t frame your dialogue around extremists to represent them as causing pain to anyone. Ensure that you communicate them to only cause pain to themselves and no one else. Frame them to be experiencing self inflicted pain in order to dissuade others on their side from joining them. Make them feel alone, not threatening, and undesirable in the extreme stances that they take. Make them seem ineffective and unwanted. As mentioned above, the first step in doing that is to widen the gap between the sensible and the extreme on any one side of an issue.
Publicize the Paths
Once you’ve done your best to make the extreme position on an issue seem undesirable to those on the same team, you should try to figure out the paths that led toward adopting that extreme position. How did the extremists you’ve made to feel alone end up where they ended up? What were the early signs of their adoption of extreme ideology? Did people encourage them? Where they surrounded by “yes men,” at all times? Did they not expose themselves to contending viewpoints and simply weren’t challenged on their way toward adopting lonely, extreme, stances on an issue?
Make a list of all the patterns you’ve discovered the extremists on both sides of a partisan debate to have taken. In conjunction with making extremist positions seem lonely and undesirable, show people on the same side of the issue the paths extremists took to end up at the extreme. After you discourage people from wanting to be extremists, show them how they can prevent traveling down the same path.
In this phase of the process lies the need to educate people who subscribe to one ideology how important it is to be sensible to those with an opposing viewpoint. Use the lonely extremists on their side to drive this point home. Likelier than not, extremists on their side of an issue didn’t listen to any opposing viewpoints. That rigid ideological pathway is a sure way of ending up adopting an extreme opinion about an issue.
Those who attempt to limit extreme partisanship in others seem to know the importance of teaching people to respect opposing viewpoints. However, they don’t make a good case for how that would benefit people on either side of an issue. Why should someone respect opposing viewpoints? Why should they be sensible to people who hold different opinions than themselves?
This article suggests that your act of making extremist positions seem undesirable, by making them seem lonely, does well to motivate others to adopt sensible social habits. Since the extremist on their side brought more harm to their cause than benefit, show the rest how sensible behaviors would do the opposite. Make reasonable discourse seem beneficial to both sides of a partisan debate by unveiling just how undesirable extreme positions are to the very ideas they aim to spread.
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