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

Murray-Ryan Budget Deal Illustrates the Importance of Good Personal Relationships

One of the reasons that we feel that politics has gotten more uncivil is that the relationships that used to bind partisans across parties have frayed.  Partisans of the past seemed to know how to compete for their policy priorities while still remaining cordial to each other.  It is no longer enough to question a politician's policies and we now question their motivation and character.  Social psychology research shows that it is much harder to cooperate with others when we do not have positive contact with them.

Of course, research in a lab may not map onto real world situations so it is important to note when real world examples confirm what is suggested in research.  Recently, Patty Murray and Paul Ryan, leaders of their respective parties were able to put together a bi-partisan budget deal that will ostensibly remove the threat of government shutdowns for two full years.  According to this Politico article, some amount of the credit for this deal can be given to the relatively warm personal relationship between Murray and Ryan.

Fresh off the campaign trail last year, Ryan and Murray sat down for breakfast in the Senate dining room last December, talking about their upbringings, their churches (both are Roman Catholic), two families and two states. They found more in common than they thought, Murray said.

“I had no idea what to know about this guy,” Murray said. “He ran for vice president, he was a political figure, he walked in, and we had a really good conversation about it, about his family, my family — about who we are. Honestly, his state was kind of compatible with mine — unless you talk about football.”

Ryan praised Murray on Thursday evening, calling her a “delight” and saying the talks were “very tough, very honest … but we kept our emotions in check and we kept working at it.”


Given the convergence of evidence from both social science research and real world examples, groups and individuals who wish to reduce inter-group conflict would be well served to consider how to increase positive relationships across groups.  

– Ravi Iyer

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When is Uncompromising Uncivil?

Longtime Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has become the especial target of a group of conservative activists.  In a rather snide open letter the collective–dominated by local editions of the Tea Party–urge Alexander to retire with his dignity intact ere some true conservative rises to crush him and expose his lack of true conservatism. I paraphrase.

But the striking part of the letter (read it here) is that the brunt of the brief against the conservative Senator amounts to this:  that according the the activists "our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous."

Now though this letter to Lamar seems to represent a case of at least incipient incivility, it does seem that an uncompromising position can be held civilly; in theory at least even with utmost politeness and respect for the opposition.  And the facile linking of civility with a propensity to compromise can be merely the partisanship of the centrist, or moderate; or of an opposing partisan who's being frustrated by an uncompromising stand.

The question lurking then is when does impeccably civil uncompromising become uncivil… just by being uncompromising. Or does it? If it does, do we know it when we see it? And who is the we that prevails in the adjudication? 

I find this all disturbingly problematic…like a flirt with the abyss.


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