Continued from Part 2:

So How Can all this Help us Change our Situation?

The bad news is we can’t force such attractors to change – there are too many components that are keeping them stuck. But we can begin to do some things today to decrease the probabilities that things will remain stuck or get worse over time, and increase the probabilities that our leaders return to more constructive problem-solving.

But first it’s important to understand WHEN THEY CHANGE. Because not only do 95% of enduring conflicts begin within 10 years of a political shock, but 75% of them also end within 10 years of shocks.

For instance, if you look again at polarization graph, you can see that in 1924 –exactly 10 years after the shock of World War I –Congress came together and enjoyed an uncommonly high level of stable consensus-based problem-solving for over 50 years!

This means shocks – like the recent world financial and economic crises – can also rupture patterns of polarization – and create the conditions for positive change.

But we may not see major changes for 10 years. And they do not ensure positive change; they only create the conditions.

So, another thing that mathematics tells us helps determine the direction we take after a political shock is what they call the power of initial conditions.

That is, the first actions taken in the early stages a newly developed system largely determine its future trajectory. This means that whoever wins the election this week will have a unique but small window of opportunity to reset our course. Our country is stuck and in decline and we need our leaders to break the mold. This is exactly leaders like FDR and Nelson Mandela did in the wake of extraordinary crises. They reframed the debate.

So What If on Wednesday November 7th - the day after the election – our next elected President called for a radical new approach to governing where the President and Congress govern according to a shared vision, mission and objectives they come together to agree to within the first 100 days in office? Just rid ourselves of governance through opinion polling and lobbyist control and require our leaders to work together. If they don't agree, then the President (by Executive order) triggers government shut down. Can you imagine that?

It would take advantage of our destabilizing financial and economic crisis by setting a new course!

But what about Us? What can we do to break the mold? It is critical to recognize that the hostile attractor we are trapped in as a nation was created and is maintained by all of us. Our words and deeds in our homes and communities do much to contribute to the current climate of contempt.

But even small changes in what we call control parameters – like our most basic rules of behavior can have enormous emergent effects on a system. If each of us made one change in how we act in our daily lives, we could make a difference.

Complicate. For example, by recognizing that the more serious problems we face today in economics, security, health and education are immensely complicated. Because this complexity makes us anxious we are comforted by simplistic solutions. But solutions to these problems will always be mixed - with both good and bad outcomes. Recognizing this from the beginning forces us to demand solutions that are more feasible and sustainable.

In fact, groups like Search for Common Ground (, National Issues Forum (, Public Conversations Project (, and other dialogue groups are today holding community forums locally around the country to help reintroduce nuance into our understanding of today’s worst problems and foster workable solutions.

Concentrate. Or by simply paying closer attention. Science 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 or coworkers). Many of these behaviors contribute to our divisions.

When was the last time you MSNBCers watched Bill O’Reilly just to learn something new? Not to scowl or ridicule, but just to try to discover new ideas? Or when did you Foxers last tune-in to PBS?

These actions may seem trivial, but they add up and can help us break out of being stuck and deadlocked. The good news is that we are in crisis! So ask not what your country can do for you...but what you can do with the rare opportunity of this crisis.

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.