Our Kids Are Growing Up In An Environment Of Toxic Polarization. Here’s How I’m Using One Word To Try And Make A Difference.
As parents, we want to raise capable, self-reliant children who can reach their goals and have healthy relationships.
We also want to raise children with the courage and skill to be a positive influence in the world.
In this blog post, I’m going to promote the use of a single word—with a question mark—as a way to empower your child to get better results as an individual and as a contributing member of society.
That word is “all”. As in “All?” or “All of them?” or “All the time?”
Teaching our kids to be careful with the word “all” is desperately needed, because our children—like us—are being fed a constant diet of polarized and un-nuanced all-or-none thinking, especially via social media.
Let’s practice this tool with convicted murderers, before getting into some kid-related details.
According to the prison reform website Prison Policy, there are 183,000 people in the United States imprisoned for murder. Let’s try “all?” out.
- Do you think that all of those people actually committed a murder? Might there be some who were wrongly imprisoned?
- Do you think that all of the people who committed a murder are 100% evil? Might there be some who are mostly good, let’s say just as good as you, but who made a terrible mistake or were caught up in some terrible circumstance?
- Do you think that all the people imprisoned for murder should be incarcerated for the rest of their lives? Might there be some who deserve to be released at some point, or who have the potential to bring benefit to society and to themselves?
- Do you think that all the people who committed a murder should be released someday? Might there be some people who should never, under any circumstance, be released?
See how amazing that question is? Now that we’ve used the “all?” question to start turning 183,000 imprisoned murderers into actual complex human beings, let’s move onto a way harder group of people.
Ha, ha…I wish I were joking. But the truth is that a 2019 Pew study cited in the NY Times reported that 20% of members of both parties agree that members of the other party “lack the traits to be considered fully human—they behave like animals.”
In fact, almost 20% of Democrats and Republicans even admitted to often thinking that the country would be better off if large numbers of the opposition were dead.
Luckily, most of us believe that even obnoxious, reckless and willfully destructive political opponents are human, and we don’t want them to all die. (Although we would love for them to forget to vote!)
But back to our kids.
Because our children, like us, are being basted, broiled, boiled and braised in a kitchen of polarization, which resists complexity and humanity and demonizes others. Berkeley University’s Greater Good / Bridging Differences project reports that “the resulting hostility and distrust undermines our emotional well-being, the quality of our relationships, and the integrity of our democratic institutions.” Its website adds:
“The force that empowers polarization is tribalism: clustering ourselves into groups that compete against each other in a zero-sum game where negotiation and compromise are perceived as betrayal, whether those groups are political, racial, economic, religious, gender, or generational.”
Tribalism is bad for our kids for several reasons:
- On a personal level, they are likely to need to live and work with lots of people from lots of different backgrounds in order to accomplish their own awesome, personal best life. That can be hard to do if you consider a coworker or classmate a member of an enemy tribe and you experience or perpetrate the resulting “hostility and distrust” Berkeley referenced.
- On an interpersonal and societal level, our kids will need to reach consensus—at least in some areas—with people they disagree with in other areas in order to accomplish just about anything, whether it is saving the environment or having a long-term romantic relationship.
- Diversity is good for results. In fact, studies seem to indicate that diversity across a range of backgrounds from gender and race to age, religion and yes, political party, results in better business and project results. So inability to tolerate diversity is likely bad for results.
- Uh, civil war is bad.
Now please! Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the “other side” is right.
It’s just that hating the other side won’t make them change their minds, even as research shows that our anger at others can impair our own immune systems, cause high blood pressure, stress and anxiety, and is even linked to serious problems such as heart attacks and stroke.
On the other hand, not hating the other side can still coexist with and even support principled and effective action.
And I believe that a kid who can see other people as complex, look for common ground, and tolerate differences of opinion in order to accomplish their goals—or even to refine their own understandings—is a kid who is more likely to achieve personal goals and have interpersonal and societal influence.
So I’ve been trying to use the word “all?” more often with my kids, as they listen to podcasts, scroll through social media, or make comments. I ask:
- “Wait, are all the police…?”
- “Wait, are all the protestors…?”
And then I listen! Because just asking the question is enough to dramatically reduce polarization.
And guess what?
This powerful word also comes in really handy in other parenting situations!
- “Wait, do you really think that all your friends’ parents let them stay up all night?”
- “Wait, is your sister really mean to you all the time?
It Won’t ALL-ways Be Like This.
These are tough times to be a kid, and to be a parent.
However, there won’t always be a pandemic, and our nation won’t always be so bitterly divided.
In the meantime, human connection makes things easier.
That connection is what I love most about my life at NYC Guitar School. I consider it the privilege of my life to be teaching music to your kids, and making music with you.
I’m particularly excited that over the past crazy months, students from 20 states have joined our virtual students in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. But no matter where your kid’s laptop is located, I know that in our virtual classrooms we can celebrate and support each other as we grow and improve as musicians—and hopefully, as people!
How To Bridge Our Differences
Politically Diverse Teams Are More Effective
20% of both Democrats and Republicans think the other party is sub-human.
Mass incarceration: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html
Diversity Makes Us Smarter And More Effective