Educating the Public on Evidence-based methods for improving inter-group civility.

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Essay Competition: Supporting Civil Discourse on Gun Violence

The National Institute for Civil Discourse is running this essay contest to help encourage a civil discussion about gun control among citizens.  Considering the heated nature of the recent dialogue between Piers Morgan and Alex Jones, where Jones challenged Morgan to a boxing match, there is certainly room for improvement in terms of the level of discourse.  

Below are the details on this contest:

Request for Proposals
Supporting a National Conversation about Gun Violence
The National Institute for Civil Discourse seeks to promote civil discourse on issues of public interest and consequence.  As the national discussion about gun violence has evolved in the weeks since the Sandy Hook shootings, we’ve seen an immediate move to heated rhetoric by leaders on all sides of the issue.  The Institute does not and will not take a policy position on gun control, but is committed to encouraging a civil discussion not only among our leaders but, just as importantly, among citizens.
A number of deliberative democracy groups across the country have signaled their interest in leading citizen discussions, bringing together ordinary people who hold different views on what should be done about gun violence.  Ideally, these discussions could explore types of recommendations, which all participants could support.
In support of this process, the National Institute for Civil Discourse seeks evidence-based essays, which address the challenges of conducting constructive public conversations about the volatile issue of gun violence in the United States. Essays (3-5 pages maximum for web presentation) may draw on research or case studies, with links to scholarship and/or practice. We welcome submissions from all disciplines, recognizing that the collection of essays will be strongest if the challenges are examined through multiple lenses. Examples of questions an author might address would be:
·         Why is it so difficult to talk about this issue among people with different perspectives and interest?
·         How can we best frame the array of policy issues (gun regulation, mental illness, pervasiveness of violence in entertainment, etc.) in fair, non-pejorative terms?
·         How can we move toward constructive solutions together without compromising our fundamental values?

A stipend of $2,500 will be awarded to each of the essay authors, who will be chosen through a peer-reviewed process based on the relevance and scope of the proposed question(s). Applicants should propose an essay question (or questions) and approach in an Abstract of no more than 1000 words.  Abstracts should be submitted with a single-page CV (please include professional preparation, academic appointments, relevant publications, selected awards, scholarly presentations)by January 25 to Jane Prescott-Smith, Managing Director of the Institute at   Authors whose proposals are accepted will be notified on February 1, at which time they will be asked to sign an agreement to the following requirements:
·         Authors must submit their final essays (3 – 5pages maximum) by March 1.
·         Authors agree to have their essays posted on the Institute’s websites.
·         An author must cite the Institute as a funding source on any additional publications of his/her essay.
·         The Institute reserves the right to edit for brevity and style.  Authors wishing to approve edits before posting must submit their essays by February 20.

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Strong Partisans need to get out of Maslow’s Basement

Losing an election is tough and I have immense empathy for those who have a heartfelt vision for their country that was not fulfilled on election day.  Most people who care deeply about the election, Democrats and Republicans, do so out of a real desire for the country to do better and it's unfortunate that the results have to disappoint so many well-meaning people. That being said, there are some conservatives who have implied that those who vote for Obama simply want free stuff, while some liberals imply that billionaires who support Romney do so out of self-interest.  Consider this quote from Sarah Palin:

We're not explaining to the rest of America, who thinks that they're going to get a bunch of free stuff from Obama, that you have a choice. You either get free stuff or you get freedom. You cannot have both, and you need to make a choice.

Or consider this quote from Paul Krugman:

billionaires have always loved the doctrines in question, which offer a rationale for policies that serve their interests….And now the same people effectively own a whole political party.

And in reaction to the election results, Bill O'Reilly opined that the reason that Obama gets support is that

There are 50% of the voting public who want stuff.  They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.

What these three quotes have in common is that they all make a common  mistake about how we view the motivations of others.  Chip and Dan Heath call this "getting out of Maslow's basement", which refers to Maslow's hierarchy of needs depicted below.

Maslow's idea was that motivation can be grouped from lower level needs such as wanting "stuff" to higher order needs like caring about others, fulfilling values, etc.   The implication of O'Reilly, Palin, Krugman, and many partisans, is that the other side is motivated by these lower level needs.  It is a common mistake, made in many domains to believe that others are motivated by lower level needs. Chip and Dan Heath have shown that we all assume that other people are motivated by lower level needs, but that we ourselves are motivated by higher order needs.  The truth is that most everyone is actually motivated by higher order needs. In the below video, they explain one of many studies showing this.

It is easy to let partisanship help you impugn the motives of others.  And there is no doubt that some amount of self-interest helps shape our values.  However, most people who care enough to vote do so out of higher order considerations.  Indeed, nobody stands in an 8 hour line to vote out of self-interest. They really do want to help the poor or promote economic growth and freedom.  And if we ever want to fulfill the bipartisanship we desire in the world, we would do well to understand the sincere motivations of others. – Ravi Iyer

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Be the Bipartisanship you wish to see in the World by Supporting our next President

The point of politics is to make people’s lives better.  Liberals and conservatives may disagree about how to do that, but despite the heated rhetoric, there are a number of broad goals that most anyone would agree upon.  Consider a survey we recently conducted concerning liberal and conservative preferences about the kind of place they would like to live.  While there are differences in terms of priorities, the top 5 desirable attributes are largely the same.  Everyone wants a strong economy, safety, clean air and water, and good medical care.

Top 5 Desirable attributes in a city by ideology:

Unfortunately, roughly half of the country is going to be disappointed by the results of the next presidential election.  Both history and psychology tell us that this disappointment will likely lead to some amount of demonization of whomever wins, reflexive opposition, and incivility.  This may lead to outcomes that nobody wants, such as what occurred during the debt ceiling negotiations.
Thoughtful liberals, conservatives, and both presidential candidates have talked about the need to transcend partisanship in order to attempt to create better policy and a better country.  The results of the next election are likely to disappoint some of these thoughtful people, yet it also represents an opportunity for them to be the change they wish to see in the world, by consciously resisting the impulse toward demonization and reflexive opposition.  It represents an opportunity to back up words of bipartisanship with action, at a powerful moment when everybody will expect the opposite.

Supporting our next president does not mean that you need to support their policies.  We can disagree without being disagreeable.  But supporting our next president does mean that we hope they succeed at goals that we all share such as creating a safer, cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous world.  It means hoping that the unemployment rate goes down, not up.  It means hoping that the poor receive the help they need, whether by charity or government, and that terrorism is stopped, whether by military or diplomatic means.  Whomever wins, let’s support them by truly hoping they succeed at our shared goals.

If this resonates with you, consider joining our facebook group and pass this message on to your friends.  Positive change always starts with small groups of people who believe in something.


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Escaping Cycles of Extremism: What the Libyan Mob and Sam Bacile have in common.

The recent killing of Americans in Libya by a mob of protestors who were responding to an intentionally offensive youtube video, created by Sam Bacile and friends, illustrates a fundamental truth.  Extremism begets extremism.  Killing begets killing. Violence begets violence.

It is a truth that directly relates to the cycles of incivility that we see in American politics and a truth that social psychologists often study, because group level reactions to conflict, extremism, violence, and incivility/demonization are fairly predictable; they incite more of the same.  Indeed, there is clear evidence that Sam Bacile, Terry Jones, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, and other extremists understand this implicitly and commit their extremist acts with the idea of inciting a wider war.  In this case, a desire for a wider conflict is what the Libyan Mob and Sam Bacile have in common.  Psychology research backs their methods.

Given the reliability with which extremists can create cycles of violence, it remains imperative that those of us who want reduced extremism, incivility, and violence realize the situational causes and consider how to frame things as a cooperative goal of moderates vs. extremists, instead of a Muslims vs. the West frame that extremists on both sides would prefer.  It's an imperative that Martin Luther King put as follows:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love… Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

– Ravi Iyer

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Our goal is to educate the public about social science research on improving inter-group relations across moral divides.