episode 20

“Honoring Dignity & Leading in Polarization” with David Brubaker

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“Trauma is the glue that holds polarization in place.”
In this classic Fractal Friends episode re-release, Duncan speaks with David Brubaker about the depth of polarization. They discuss the importance of honoring each others’ (and our own) dignity, even when we don’t agree with each other. Empathy is a valuable tool we can use to understand other perspectives and ask questions that produce profound answers.

David and Duncan delve deep into how trauma impacts polarization, including our epigenetics. That’s why it’s so important to know how to deal with trauma appropriately and recognize its wider effect on all of us. 

David explains how people choose their side regardless of how much sense the other side makes. He tells an anecdote about Israel and Palestine where one side shunned their own idea because they thought it came from the other.

Polarization is real and dangerous, and it’s up to us to understand and fix the rift it creates. 

Watch the episode below:
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This episode and much more content is available in written form
  • Learn the definition of polarization and the different levels of conflict.
  • Discover the importance of honoring each other’s dignity, even when we don’t agree. 
  • Learn about the history of Mennonites and their involvement in conflict resolution. 
  • David explains how polarized people choose their side, regardless of the logic presented by the other side. 
  • Duncan and David discuss the history that’s led to polarization. 
  • Uncover why avoiding conflict isn’t the answer.
  • Learn why trauma makes polarization worse and why it’s important to understand how to deal with it.
  • David explains why Confederate statues were built in the South. 
  • Understand why epigenetics might cause people of color to run from the police.
Click here to download the transcript
David Brubaker
David Brubaker
About this episode’s guest
David Brubaker is a Dean at the School of Social Sciences and Professions at Eastern Mennonite University. He’s also a Professor of Sociology, and the author of several publications, including a book called When the Center Does Not Hold: Leading in an Age of Polarization. David has consulted or trained with over 100 organizations worldwide. He’s served with several community development and conflict transformation organizations for over four decades.
Guest Resources
When the Center Does not Hold: Leading in an Age of Polarization
When the Center Does Not Hold: Leading in an Age of Polarization
by: Carter Phipps
In When the Center Does Not Hold, David R. Brubaker, with contributions by colleagues Everett Brubaker and Carolyn Yoder, offers relevant, practical mentorship on navigating polarized environments. Through easily accessible stories, they provide tools and processes that will equip leaders to both manage themselves and effectively lead others in highly polarized and anxious systems. Coaching includes guidance on key characteristics of effective leadership in times of polarization: managing yourself, building a strong team, clarifying identity and vision, mourning the losses, staying connected, and knowing when it’s time to let go (as a leader). With years of combined experience in the fields of conflict transformation and organizational and leadership studies, Brubaker and his colleagues offer hope. Here, readers learn from leaders and communities that continue to renew the covenants that bind them, courageously address deeper needs that drive conflict, and hold on to a moral center while navigating the storms of polarization.

Cooperative By Design is a consortium of peacebuilding practitioners, each committed to creating a more just and peaceful world by enabling healthier families, societies, organizations, communities and natural world.

The Congregational Consulting Group is a network of independent consultants. They publish weekly thoughts on topics of interest to leaders of congregations and other purpose-driven organizations.

Omni-Win Project Content
On Polarization
Topics Discussed in Episode
The Moral Imagination
In his book The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, John Paul Lederach explains that the goal of transcending violence is advanced by the capacity to generate, mobilize, and build the moral imagination.
The moral imagination is based on four capacities:

    1. Moral imagination requires the capacity to imagine ourselves in a web of relationships, one that includes even our enemies.
    2. It requires the ability to embrace complexity without getting caught up in social schism.
    3. It requires a commitment to the creative act.
    4. It requires an acceptance of the risk that necessarily goes along with attempts to transcend violence.

Beyond Intractibilty offers a summary of The Moral Imagination here.

Here is another ”Summary of the Moral Imagination” written by Michelle Maiese at the Conflict Research Consortium.

Book Cover: The Moral Imagination - The Art and Soul of Building Peace
Conflict Transformation
Speed Leas’ Levels of Conflict

Level One: A Problem to Solve – Conflicting goals, values, needs.  Problem oriented rather than person oriented.
Level Two: Disagreement – Mixing of personalities and issues, problem cannot be clearly defined. Beginning of distrust and personalizing problem.
Level Three: Contest – Begin the dynamics of “win/lose.” Personal attacks. Formation of factions, sides, camps. Distortion a major problem.
Level Four: Fight/Flight – Shifts from winning to getting rid of person(s). Factions are solidified. Talk now takes on the language of “principles,” not “issues.”
Level Five: Intractable Situations – No longer clear understanding of issue(s); personalities have become the focus. Conflict is now unmanageable. Energy is centered on the elimination and/or destruction of the person(s).

Essential Partners

Essential Partners “believes that every community has the power to improve the way it approaches differences of values, views, and identities. For more than three decades, EP has helped civic groups, faith communities, colleges, and workplaces foster resilience, cohesion, understanding, and trust.” Essential Partners has an amazing Resource Library which includes these lists of sample questions, like the one David and I discuss in the episode.

The Conflict Curve is a model for assessing the best peacebuilding strategy for different levels of conflict. (Source: United States Institute of Peace)
Trauma Healing Resources

STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience

From the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University is a framework that integrates material from: trauma and resilience studies; restorative justice; conflict transformation; human security and spirituality.

Cycle of Trauma and Violence
Breaking Cycle of trauma and violence
My Grandmother's Hands book cover
Resmaa Menakem
by: Peter Coleman

Author of My Grandmother’s Hands: The first self-discovery book to examine white body supremacy in America from the perspective of trauma and body-centered psychology.

His talks on the On Being with Krista Tippett are a powerful introduction to the relationship of trauma and race.

History of Polarization
Choosing Party over Values
Historical Polarization in the United States

This segment from the On The Media podcast “Lessons From the Contentious Election of 1876” does a great job of explaining how scary the polarization in the United States was around the Civil War.

The Story of Us by Tim Urban

A deep exploration about the divisions in our culture. I highly recommend reading it. Here are two chapters relevant to the conversation:

Cartoon of US Sick in bed
The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization Book Cover
The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization
by: Peter Coleman
The Way Out offers an escape from this morass. The social psychologist Peter T. Coleman explores how conflict resolution and complexity science provide guidance for dealing with seemingly intractable political differences. Deploying the concept of attractors in dynamical systems, he explains why we are stuck in this rut as well as the unexpected ways that deeply rooted oppositions can and do change. Coleman meticulously details principles and practices for navigating and healing the difficult divides in our homes, workplaces, and communities, blending compelling personal accounts from his years of working on entrenched conflicts with lessons from leading-edge research. The Way Out is a vital and timely guide to breaking free from the cycle of mutual contempt in order to better our lives, relationships, and country.
The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization Book Cover
Leading with Dignity: How to Create a Culture That Brings Out the Best in People
by: Donna Hicks
Most people know very little about dignity, the author has found, and when leaders fail to respect the dignity of others, conflict and distrust ensue. Hicks highlights three components of Leading with Dignity: what one must know in order to honor dignity and avoid violating it; what one must do to lead with dignity; and how one can create a culture of dignity in any organization, whether corporate, religious, governmental, healthcare, or beyond. Brimming with key research findings, real-life case studies, and workable recommendations, this book fills an important gap in our understanding of how best to be together in a conflict-ridden world.

About The Omni-Win Project

The Omni-Win Project is a multimedia effort to raise awareness of the myriad existing and emergent opportunities to improve our democracy and heal our political culture.

Our mission: facilitating the healing and evolution of our democratic systems and political culture, so that we can co-create a future that works for everyone.

Meet The Host

I am omnipartial: I am biased in favor of the success of everyone and the whole. I believe it is possible to improve systems of communication and interaction in ways that will allow humanity to thrive and evolve through our complexity and diversity.

My purpose in life is to support an omnipartial revolution. How? By helping the world understand the fractal nature of conflict and how we can transform conflict into a positive and inspiring experience. We are all in this together. I firmly believe we can do this complex dance through life with much more grace and beauty.

I am specifically committed to transforming how we work together in teams and organizations and how we experience conflict and collaboration in our democracy.

Fractal Friends

Duncan is also the host of the Fractal Friends podcast. An exploration of our self-similary across our diversity.

Fans of the Omni-Win project podcast will enjoy this collection of episodes: https://www.fractalfriends.us/transforming-politics about Transforming Politics and Healing Democracy

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