After prepping playlists for my new show at KHOL(!), Jackson Hole’s community radio station I stumbled into an event and film screening, focused on civil discourse. It was the stickers that first caught my attention. Organized by the Wyoming Humanities Council, the event featured High Noon in America a “docu-driven civic action film” using face-to-face conversation between people from opposite sides of the political spectrum to listen and exchange views -- and maybe find some common ground. A simple premise, sure, but in a state and a nation where political discourse has perhaps never been more divided, a timely one.
In reflecting on the film, national events, and my experiences in the west as a “liberal” I see a thread: conversations break down not over the actual challenges we face, but in how we perceive the challenges we face, and in the language we use to talk about these challenges.
Let’s take climate change for example; conservatives generally are opposed to the idea that humans cause climate change. Inherent in a “conservative” mindset is a general preference for the status quo, preserving life as it is (or was). Rejecting humans’ involvement in climate change also means rejecting the need to change society and your value system. It’s also a rejection of external players having a role (i.e. the government) in your way of life.
But there is still an opportunity here. This orientation may actually open the door for to a “resilience approach” to climate change. A resilience approach emphasizes preserving, rather than changing, society. In terms of climate change, resilience focuses on implementing household or community practices that reduce vulnerability -- the risks of flash floods from heavy rain can be reduced by installing water-absorbent green infrastructure, like permeable pavement and rain gardens. Resilience can be pursued without believing that humans are causing the environmental issues. It may not address the root cause, but it is a step towards progress.
Ultimately, if language is a distraction from getting us to solutions then maybe we should find other ways to go after our goal, at least as a first step to start a dialogue.
How might we use this approach to tackle other seemingly intractable topics?