Our problems seem intractable. Opposing sides become so entrenched in their world view that any prospect of progress seems bleak.
So we spend our energy either demonizing the “other side” or trying to persuade them to “see the light” and come over to our side.
New research out of Stanford that examined one of the most intractable of all issues offers us hope that real change starts at a more basic level – showing people that ANY change is possible.
Researchers found that teaching Israeli and Palestinian teenagers that groups are generally capable of change—without ever mentioning a specific adversary—can significantly improve their ability to cooperate.
In fact in one experiment, two mixed groups were asked to build a tower out of spaghetti, marshmallows and tape (sounds like fun, right?). One was taught about people’s ability to change while the other was taught about ways to cope with stress. The “people are capable of change” students built towers 59% higher and had more positive feelings towards each other than the control group.
The simple idea that people are capable of change makes us more cooperative and increases our likelihood to compromise to make progress.
Yet in our lives and certainly in our politics we rarely start with this basic belief. Our nation’s history IS the story of change – of millions of individuals who have changed their minds and beliefs so progress could be made.
We often tell tales from those leading the struggle but rarely from the perspective of the converted. We write volumes on conflicts but not on compromises.
While the turning of the calendar typically brings hope and resolve for a better year. Some may be feeling a bit more pessimistic this time around. I encourage us all to take the long view of how far we have come as people and as a country. To think of how many minds have been changed so we could live in a world all the better for it.
Then let us all go out and tell those stories. You never know who is listening.