Relying on group think or just adhering to the party line is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to have a civil political discussion these days. Canned polarization gets in the way of having fresh eyes and practicing the art of honest and respectful debate. In a safe environment, it is actually possible to talk to think and refine our ideas in the process.
Sometimes our thinking is clouded by filtering, or taking a small negative detail and using that as the focus through which we see everything else about a person or a situation. This method is like black and white thinking, which does not allow for the gradation characteristic of most of life. When we hear ourselves saying “always” and “never” we might take a minute to pause and re-evaluate rather than set our opinion in stone.
Thinking straight requires the discipline of not imagining that we know what others are thinking (giving up mind reading) and also reining in our habits of prematurely assigning blame. Thinking straight happens more readily when we can stop ourselves from “awfulizing.” Thinking straight is more likely to happen when we are courageously looking for the truth, rather than searching for what will bolster our bias or prove us to be right. Thinking straight requires us to let go of the beliefs that just don’t hold up in real experience, like expecting life to always be fair.
Thinking straight happens best when we have worked through our own thoughts and then are able to talk things through with others who have worked through their own thoughts. The goal is not complete consensus; it is understanding things better because we have put our heads together to find a workable solution that we can all live with. This is not always easy, but as the founders of our democracy hoped, discourse can eventually lead to resolution of seemingly irreconcilable differences.
As individuals, in our relationships and in our families and in our communities, we must give up our appetite for discord in order to embrace our capacity for peace.