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Defusing Political Disagreements: Jonathan Haidt's New TED Talk [VIDEO]
TED Speakers | January 09, 2013

Defusing Political Disagreements: Jonathan Haidt's New TED Talk [VIDEO]

Why can't we all just get along? It's a question social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has tackled extensively in his work, and, as he says in a new TED Talk and interview, it's a question he believes he's found the answer to. In short, he explains that despite all the political divides and hostility between opposing sides, it is possible for us to find common ground—as long as we're willing to accept that we can learn something from those we may not agree with. The problem, he explains in a new must-see talk, is that there are four crippling issues we face—metaphorical "asteroids" hurtling toward Earth—and with the current partisan divide, we will be unable to agree on what to do to stop them from irreparably damaging our society.

He says the four major issues we will be facing in the next 50 years are global climate change, rising federal debt and the bankruptcy of welfare programs, a growing rise in inequality, and the breakdown of marriage. As it stands, the political divide has liberals focusing more on climate change and inequality while conservatives are focused on the federal debt and the decline of marriage. As such, neither party deals with all four problems at once, and neither party sees eye-to-eye on which issues are the most critical. Haidt describes each issue as an 'asteroid' on a collision course with Earth. "Our problem—and our tragedy—is that in these hyper-partisan times, the mere fact that one side says, 'Hey look! There’s an asteroid,' means that the other side says, 'Huh? What? I’m not even going to look up,'" says Haidt.

In order to come together to address the issues that ultimately affect us all, Haidt says we need to "have more constructive disagreement." He's not suggesting we all become centrists, but rather, argues that we should try to avoid looking at the opposition as the enemy. We are bound to disagree, but if we are more willing to open ourselves up to the viewpoints of others—rather than irrationally dismiss them solely because they are those of our opponent—we can reach more productive ends. "The first step is relationships," he says. "As our society gets more and more segregated by lifestyle—as the blue districts get bluer and the red districts get redder, as the Internet allows us to segregate into gated moral communities —we have to make the effort."

Author of the bestselling book The Righteous Mind, Haidt is an expert on human interaction and how our morality ties into our political beliefs. He says that it may never be possible to have people abandon their strict moral positions, but it is possible to get them to see why others hold fast to moral convictions of their own. By allowing ourselves to be open to the concerns of others, we can have more productive disagreements and eventually come to conclusions that are beneficial to everyone—regardless of their political orientation.
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