Continued from Part 2 of 3:

You see what you look for. Even when you feel like the “truth” is on your side, remember our human tendency to selectively pay attention to information that supports what we already believe, and to avoid attending to information that challenges our beliefs. This is what psychologists call “confirmation bias,” and we all do it. None of us are neutral in the way we take in information, and that’s ok, as long as we know it and can account for it in ourselves with humility, honesty, and a little disciplined openness.

Pay attention. Research also tells us that over 90% of our daily behaviors are automatic - things we do every day without thinking (like driving a car or reacting to our kids, neighbors, coworkers and family). Many of our automatic behaviors contribute to widening our divisions. So pay attention and try something new. When was the last time you really listened to the POV of a member of the other party just to learn what they might have to offer? Not to sell or persuade or criticize or demean, but just to try to understand or discover something new?

Believe in change. Knowing that people and situations and yes, even we, can and do change is a core implicit belief that is at the root of getting out of these polarization traps. Research has shown that when people believe that others can change, they tend to approach them more cooperatively, see more value in engaging with them and voicing their concerns, and have lower levels of intergroup hatred and anxiety and more willingness to interact or compromise with members of outgroups.

What I am proposing in this post is not revolutionary. In fact, it is basic, 101, human curiosity and decency. Yes, it may feel impossible under the current climate of hostility and suspicion. But as Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Peter T. Coleman, author of The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts, is associate professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, and on the faculty of Teachers College and The Earth Institute at Columbia. In 2003, he received the Early Career Award from the American Psychological Association, Division 48: Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. He lives in New York.