‘Good conversation is the equivalent of shared emotion.’ Marty Rubin.

So, everyone knows that polarisation has been growing for decades online but now it’s at fever pitch everywhere. Multi-polar culture wars, tribalism, conspiracy theories, social media filter bubbles skewing your news feed, it almost seems like the best thing you can do to raise your consciousness is just to come off social media altogether. And mainstream media is no better. In fact, as a source of trustworthy news or objectivity it can fail dismally. All we seem to get are clipped sound bites or confrontational debates that go nowhere in terms of sense making.

Whatever is to blame, and there’s a multitude of reasons, the end result is that the collective shadow is on full display and it ain’t pretty. So, how are we supposed to solve society’s problems if our everyday conversations keep breaking down and we end up at each other’s throats, or when we can’t always trust our news sources?

As far as the former goes, in a very useful book called How to have Impossible Conversations, by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, the authors admit that in the past they have been no different from the rest of us in getting it wrong, and here they address some of the things we can all do to counteract division. They describe the process of having effective, civil discussions about any divisive issues in a highly practical and straightforward way and it’s a book worth investing in.

As to finding sources of sense making that we trust, more than ever, in the face of the increasing complexity of the times, we need detailed, in depth, unscripted, creative, and real conversations. We need access to discussions about the deeply important themes of the zeitgeist without having to witness any more excruciating, political or cultural exchanges where people are pressed to reach something meaningful on a topic which requires careful analysis and nuanced thought, in a ludicrously short time.

Politics, as someone so pithily declared, is like war without bloodshed. Especially when there is now such awareness that what we are getting is not always a good faith open exchange, but often the journalist is absent and merely delivering the news organisation’s pre-scripted response.

Meanwhile it turns out there are still places where people of good faith can have long-form discussions in a place of psychological safety that get somewhere and allow us to breathe. And people have longer concentration spans than mainstream media supposes. It reminds one of how things were before the advent of the internet, when communication was more of a ‘I-thou’ exchange. I’m not normally someone who laments the past, but recently I watched a discussion between Michael Foot and Ted Heath from the seventies, and I was struck by how different it was to what we witness on media today, where topics quickly collapse. Even though they vehemently opposed the other’s political views, there was a degree of mutual respect and concern for boundaries. Each allowed the other the courtesy of finishing a sentence and pausing for breath before moving on to make a contentious point. It struck me that the audience had the chance of weighing things up with a little more clarity, because of it.

Amongst the best are of my own favourite places for wisdom of the long form variety online, is Ken Wilber’s Integral Life Once engaged with integral, it seems impossible not to be infected by the vibe. 🙂 As Roger Walsh says, if you want to foster your psychological maturation, and evolve some deep insight, the quickest way to get there is to hang out with people who have it. Consciousness is catching. We’re like tuning forks. As he says, when we’re around wiser, more altruistic people we are pulled in that direction ourselves.

In the UK, I’m also impressed by the podcasts that journalist David Fuller and Alexander Beiner are creating on Rebel Wisdom David is a journalist who worked for the BBC and Channel 4 as a documentary maker, but has also worked in the newsroom and knows its limitations. Their aim with Rebel Wisdom is to bring the kind of deeper conversations which get completely ignored by mainstream media to the table and get them out to the public mainly in the form of videos.

They feature wisdom masters from Integral Life like Ken Wilber himself, one of the world’s greatest synthetic thinkers, Roger Walsh, professor of Psychiatry, Philosophy and Anthropology at UCI, the highly regarded Harvard Developmental Psychologists Robert Kegan, and Susanne Cook Greuter, Vertical development expert, Beena Sharma, futurists Jordan Hall and Daniel Smachtenberger and other wisdom voices like psychologist Professor Jordan Peterson, who is having such an influence right now, and Professor of philosophy and cognitive science, John Verveake who has developed a wonderful series of videos on the meaning crisis to name but a very few.

All of the above recognise that the kind of problems humanity faces right now require leaders and problem solvers who have a respect for diverse values and traditions and who can grasp and handle multiple levels of nuance. There are no longer any simplistic answers for the kinds of problems we all face. The old binary system of win/lose, left versus right, my moral authority versus your moral authority, my truth versus your truth really has to go.

If we want to be a part of the solution, and it’s only my opinion, we should keep deliberately developing ourselves and growing because we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We now have to author our own beliefs, to make sense of and filter the world through an upgraded system. Nothing else, it seems, is going to be adequate to the task.

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