I had a wonderful experience when I attended the annual National Association of Professional Women’s Conference in NYC on April 25-26, 2013. It was a positive energy networking affair that focused on empowering and educating women in business. While the conference had many excellent speakers, Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post, delivered my favorite anecdotes and lines.
Huffington spoke of the important lessons she has learned over the years and what she might tell her younger self. Among those lessons were to stop listening to the “obnoxious roommate” in our head that constantly puts us down, and to remember that life is an incredible journey. All that really matters is our approach to life. It was oddly comforting to realize that this amazingly successful woman had faced the same doubts as many of us have faced. But, my favorite Huffington comment was in conjunction with her commitment as a woman and a human to create a more caring workplace and a more caring world. She urged the audience to maintain a healthy lifestyle, to reduce stress levels, and to care about their fellow human beings by being supportive and non-judgmental.
Her challenge to us to be non-judgmental requires courage to change our attitudes about others. Too often, society attempts to compartmentalize individuals with labels such as Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, stay at home mom or working mom… Each label contains many assumptions. But those assumptions are not based on reality or fact. The assumptions are based on an idea or a preconception defined by interest groups, politicians, or media pundits. The preconceptions are then exploited by polarizing language that is inflammatory or induces fear. The emotional or fearful responses are then used by interest groups, political parties, and media pundits to promote their agenda.
The polarizing language is used so frequently that we have almost come to accept its presence, similar to the presence of an annoying mosquito. Polarizing language can be inflammatory such as the characterization of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as a government takeover of our health care system. Or, polarizing language can create fear such as the gun lobby’s statement that any efforts to curb gun violence through legislation will result in a confiscation of guns from law-abiding citizens. When used in this divisive manner, language becomes a weapon because it creates assumptions that thwart communication and suspend rational thought, and that result in misunderstandings, misinterpretations, political deadlock, and even violence.
What if we could read an article about an issue without using the labels that influence our decision about what the outcome must be based on our politics? What if we looked at each issue as a parent does with the intent to achieve the best outcome for their child’s development and welfare? It won’t be easy, but it will be liberating. Make no assumptions, listen to the opposing sides without taking anything personally, and then rationally think through an issue. Hopefully, if we practice listening to each other and conversing without hurling insults, then we can bridge divides, reach compromises, and move forward.