Our October topic was “Moving Past our Biases to Find the Best Leadership for Democracy.” We can choose to (1) remain stuck in partisanship and blame the other side or (2) identify the underlying principles of democracy and work together to implement them via constructive dialogue. Do we take the first step or wait for those with whom we disagree to bridge the gap?
We discussed the question: “Is an objective search for the best candidate possible?” The hope is to avoid getting caught in our views so that respectful dialogue becomes impossible. If democracy is about equality, do some of us think that our views — and therefore we — are superior to others? What works best is to avoid personal blame and to focus together to identify the most essential principles of democracy and how best to move toward them.
In our day we have gone far beyond the US founders. Our understanding of how to implement equality has evolved. The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, written after the Civil War, guarantees “equal protection of the laws.” Most democracies have moved closer to the fulfillment of equality in their laws and personal interactions. We have more fully — but not totally — included women and previously excluded minorities as equals in areas such as voting and employment. But within our democracies there still are those who resist the extension of equality to those they consider less than equal to themselves.
The US founders unified to create the Constitution that still guides us, then some engaged in personal attacks that made them enemies. Adams and Jefferson split over the meaning of the Constitution and didn’t speak for twelve years. Everyone now knows about the enmity between Hamilton and Burr. Our inability to work for the common interest continues to threaten the continuance of democracy itself.
Here are some of the priorities mentioned by our members that they would like in a leader. You are welcome to send in the qualities you seek using our contact form.
In an attempt to keep our discussion focused on the issues we reviewed a form from the US Federal Courts called “Guidelines for a Civil Discussion” which outlines the procedure used by courts for allowing the presentation of conflicting viewpoints in a civil manner. These procedures mandate that all must listen to the evidence presented by both sides. Our own discussion nonetheless got a little hot at times due to the divergence of opinions expressed.
We welcome viewpoints from Left and Right in an attempt to work toward respectful dialogue that is the essence of democracy. People on each side often accuse the other of not listening, so we must attempt to understand how others think if we ever are to bridge our gap. Here are a few highlights from a note we received from someone from the right end of the political spectrum that we read at our meeting:
We continued work on our Candidate Evaluation Form, which will be completed and available next month.
We discussed the book Biased, by Jennifer Eberhardt, who is a researcher at Stanford and does workshops on the subject. Here are a few quotes that are relevant to our discussion.
BIASED, by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, 2019, page numbers are cited.
26. We reserve our precious cognitive resources for those who are “like us.”
31. Categorization is a fundamental tool that our brains are wired to use. The categorization process applies not just to people, it works on all things….we label the beliefs we have about social groups “stereotypes” and the attitudes we have toward them “prejudices.”
33. People tend to seek out and attend to information that already confirms their beliefs.
39. Studies confirm that biased parents tend to produce children that are biased as well.
200. Spending time with groups you’re determined to dislike can actually translate in a biased mind to validation: I thought these people were stupid, now I know they are.
202. When we’re faced with a common enemy, research has shown, our biases can temporarily dissolve by the urge to band together and serve.
211. Researchers have identified key elements that can improve school performance. They rest on a basic principle: Students need to feel individually valued and respected, connected to both the people and process involved in their education.
212. It has long been clear that constructive feedback is a powerful tool for promoting children’s intellectual development. And academic growth requires both praise and criticism.
236. We all have multiple selves that we carry around with us. Which self dominates — to guide our thoughts, feelings, and actions — is, in part, a function of the situations we find ourselves in.
281. Trainers stress the prevalence of bias for a good reason: They want the people they’re training to engage with the topic in a personal way. It’s difficult to stay engaged if what you are hearing is accusatory and threatening.
292. We’ve learned that diverse groups are more creative and reach better decisions, but they aren’t always the happiest. There are more differences, so there is apt to be more discord.
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The book The Future of Democracy can be ordered wherever books are sold.
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Steve Zolno is the author of the book The Future of Democracy and several related titles. He graduated from Shimer College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences and holds a Master’s in Educational Psychology from Sonoma State University. He is a Management and Educational Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been conducting seminars on democracy since 2006.