We live in divisive times, when people no longer merely disagree, but go so far as to demonize others for not sharing their opinions. This isn’t good for either individuals or society. Howard Ross, in his new book, Our Search for Belonging: How Our Need to Connect Is Tearing Us Apart, explains where this “us versus them” dynamic comes from, how our society has taken it to an extreme, and what we need to do to find middle ground.
As humans, we’re wired to seek out and associate with members of our own tribe, both for safety and for a sense of belonging. We have an innate desire to preference for those whom we deem members of our own tribe over those from other tribes. In today’s world, that translates into our tendency to surround ourselves with people like ourselves — in neighborhoods, places of worship, social organizations and even our media preferences.
This is taken to an extreme, however, in the political realm. Politics has now become one of the most polarizing areas in our lives. Think of the red and blue states represented on the U.S. map on the night of our last presidential election. As Ross writes, it’s apparent that, “Politically, we have formed ourselves into camps that are more separated geographically, socioeconomically, educationally, and in other ways than they were before.” He describes our segregation as the “Whole Foods/Cracker Barrel divide.”
And, while our political system once operated as a bell curve — with extremes of liberalism and conservatism on the ends, but the majority of politicians gravitating to the middle — it’s now devolved into a dumbbell curve. The extremes under which our government, and society overall, now operates extend beyond a disagreement over issues to a deep, personal dislike for those holding an opposing point of view.
With Our Search for Belonging, Ross offers readers ways to bridge this deep divide and attain more harmony and acceptance in our personal, professional and civic lives. He asks us to start by understanding our own biases — both conscious and unconscious. He offers suggestions for getting to know the other point of view and disagreeing without being disagreeable.
Ross points out that the workplace, more than anywhere else, is our most diverse environment and, because of this, is our greatest hope for connecting across different tribes. He describes how companies, including Target, General Mills and Kaiser Permanente, have stepped up to move employees beyond differences and to develop more inclusive environments.
Our Search for Belonging incorporates practical tips, personal stories and on-the-ground examples that can help readers discover new ways to engage with different points of view. Howard Ross reminds us that, whether we like it or not, we all have a shared destiny.
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