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Exploring motivation behind polarization

Great Expectations

It strikes me that American society is becoming increasingly polarized in both politics and in social issues. Polls, news reports and anecdotal evidence indicates that we have become a divided nation.

This division is a phenomenon that is fascinating to me because of my interest in human behavior. It is also disturbing, because it is not in the best interest of our country.

There are few absolutes in life, and most things are not black or white. There is a lot of gray in the political and social issues that divide us. I have sometimes envied those who do not see the gray. Life must be easier when you can freely give labels of good or evil, conservative or liberal, black or white. I confess that the older I get, the more that I must resist the temptation to become dogmatic in my own thinking and behavior.

Conventional wisdom is that educated people are more objective, empathic and tolerant than uneducated people. Perhaps that is not true. There seems to be little correlation between educational level and objectivity related to political and social issues.

The highest correlate related to political and social issues is the views held by the persons in the community in which we live. Our political and social views are more likely to mirror the community in which we live rather than reflecting carefully developed opinions that evolve from our values, study and interaction with others outside our community.

Since World War II, the demographics of the United States have changed radically.

The suburbs have evolved and rural America’s communities have dwindled. A more homogeneous society now exists, unlike the heterogeneous society that existed in prewar times. In a previous era, the rich, middle class, poor, educated and uneducated lived in close proximity to each other. The sharecropper lived in the same community and often on the same farm as the farm owner.

In the small towns, it was common for large Victorian homes and small craftsman cottages to be on the same street. The poor lived in areas of the small town that were nearby the rich and middle class neighborhoods. There was more interaction between classes of people than today.

Today, we are more likely to live in a neighborhood where the houses are similar in size and cost. Most of the people living in our neighborhoods are near the same economic status. The levels of education and even the age range are a more homogenous grouping than those of past eras.

Even our churches and workplaces tend to be very homogenous groupings. We lack the interaction with people who are on a different social, economic and educational level.
This lack of interaction denies us opportunity to develop empathy, understanding and tolerance.

Maybe the community we live in does influence our social and political views, but it doesn’t have to be the deciding factor.

Our Creator has given us the ability to think, to feel and to analyze social and political issues. That Creator has also given us the ability to choose and act independently.
Ask yourself a few soul-searching questions:


o I have close friends who have different political and social views? Yes or No.

Am I tolerant of those who have different political and social views? Yes or No.

Am I able to discuss political and social issues without becoming angry or defensive? Yes or No.

Have I studied a political position or a social issue and changed my position or belief? Yes or No.

Archie King, LPC, lives in Madison and writes frequently for the Mississippi Business Journal. E-mail him at


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