Thanksgiving is America’s yearly celebration of family togetherness. But with partisan divisions at a boiling point after the polarizing midterm election and a punishing political year, many are bracing themselves for a war of words at the dinner table this Thursday.
For the past two decades, Peter Coleman, the director of the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict at Columbia University, has been studying what happens when people clash over politics.
“There’s been a big increase in contempt for the other side, the idea that they are ignorant, selfish and out to harm America,” said Dr. Coleman, a professor of education and psychology.
Indeed, a report this fall by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Americans say talking about politics with people they disagree with is stressful and frustrating.
Parisa Parsa, the executive director of Essential Partners, a nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Mass., that uses strategies developed in family therapy to structure conversations between Americans on contentious topics, says that good listening skills are critical. “About 70 percent of people go into a dialogue thinking that they are pretty good listeners, but only about 30 percent feel that they are heard and understood. So clearly there is some kind of disconnect,” she said.
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