Spent an hour in conversation with a friend in the US last night discussing the role of dialogue in connecting communities together. My friend has extensive experience working with immigrant, refugee communities and in working with inner city agencies. He’s been personally affected by Trump’s travel edict as his family members are directly targetted by the current travel ban. He’s a man I respect very much.
We were talking about ways to connect and understand the “other side.” After our conversation I stumbled over this podcast on the “deep story” of what is motivating Trump supporters, and probably both Brexit supporters and other Europeans struggling with how the world is changing and how they perceive their privileges coming apart. We talked about how there is always a thin slice of people that will never sit down with “the other.” We also spoke about the many main street Republicans who feel abandoned by their party and have done since the Tea Party took it over. It comes down to the fact that arguments on economics and policy cannot overrule the emotional aspects of identity, especially when people feel those identities are under assualt through no fault of their own.
In her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land, sociologist Arlie Hochschild tackles this paradox. She says that while people might vote against their economic needs, they’re actually voting to serve their emotional needs
The image of standing in line to get your rewards and watch people stream past you is compelling. It’s one thing to deconstruct this image with data and facts, but first it’s important to understand it and how people deeply FEEL it.
Deep story is fascinating to me. Here in my home community of Bowen Island, we experience tensions from time to time over our deep story. We all have ideas about what we think this place is and who we think we are. To some extent that story is an illusion born in our world views and our desires. In a place like Bowen Island, where most of us moved here from somewhere else, our own deep story includes the deep motivation that brought us here.
And deeper beneath the personal deep story we bring is the emergent and slowly changing story of the island’s identity. Over the last couple of years, as a member of our local Economic Development Committee, I have worked with friends and colleagues to understand our deep story. Once you can see it, it reveals the deep yes’ and deep no’s that make things happen or hold things back. People are often surprised by things that go on in our little community, but understanding the deep story helps to explain where these things come from.
When you understand the deep story, you can find deep places to connect together and important places of engagement and curiosity. Dialogue gets more interesting as we set out to learn about each other, what we care about, what we assume is true, and what is essential to our identity. Strategy that does not take the power of identity into consideration creates implementation plans that will inevitably endure oblique assaults on its efficacy. Understanding the deep story and identity of a place or a person is essential to resilience, collaboration and peacemaking across difference. A healthy community can hold different stories in all their complexity, even when those stories conflict with each other. An unhealthy community pits one story against another, and cynical leaders do the same.
We have a choice as citizens. This podcast helps us become resourceful in making that choice.