This summer, I learned how daunting it is to be a tolerant, politically engaged American in these times.
Amidst the turmoil of the Jan. 6 congressional hearings, Roe v Wade outrage, horrific mass shootings and the F.B.I. raid on Mar-a-Lago, I launched and participated in a 4-week group “challenge” on reducing political polarization in America called, “The Way Out.” The nation seems locked in a toxic political crisis, descending ever closer to violence and civil war, and I saw this challenge as an opportunity for me to help address a problem that often seems insurmountable for any one individual.
In addition to preparing to meet and talk constructively with partisans across the divide, this challenge involved completing several assessments on my own political tendencies. I found the results of these surveys unnerving. Turns out I am acutely sensitive to social rejection from my peers, show high partisan conformity across distinct policy issues and am uncomfortable standing up to members of my own camp when they cross a line.
As one member of our challenge group put it, “It takes courage to risk being disliked, disrespected and disturbed.”
I am an academic who studies conflict and activism. I am well aware of the vital importance of dissent to well-functioning groups and societies and have long prided myself on my willingness to speak truth to power. But apparently not when that power is peer pressure. And I am not alone.