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Skills and Strategies for Bridging Differences


The following is adapted from a work of findings by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, on skills and strategies that support positive dialogue, relationships and understanding among groups or individuals across political, racial, religious and other distinctions. The study was based on decades of research, interviews with dozens of leaders and groundbreaking programs tackling these issues today. To access the full text, visit greatergood.berkeley.edu and search “Bridging Differences Playbook.”

Intrapersonal

Strategies you can try on your own to deepen your capacity for beneficial interactions with others you might see as different from you:

• Assume good intentions when engaging with others.
• Develop awareness of your thoughts, feelings and surroundings to reduce biases.
• Expand your experiences by exposing yourself to new people, events and activities.
• Seek and promote counter-stereotypical information.
• Focus on individuality rather than generalizing a group.

Interpersonal

Strategies you can employ during interactions with others you might see as different from you:

• Listen with compassion so the other person feels heard.
• Put people before politics to understand their perspective as an individual.
• Try to see the world through the other person’s eyes and understand where they’re coming from.
• Find shared identities and other commonalities.
• Try to understand the values that resonate with the other person.
• Try self-distancing by reflecting upon your own thoughts and feelings from a third-person perspective.

Intergroup

Strategies you can use when bringing  other people of different groups together:

• Gain the support of a neutral mediator or leader.
• Identify common goals between the groups.
• Create a sense of interdependence and a shared stake in accomplishing a joint goal.
• Create a sense of equal status.
• Ensure you’re not operating off your own assumptions.
• Create time and space to reflect upon what you’ve learned from each group’s experience.

Ikeda Sensei’s Guidance

The SGI Is a Realm of “Good Friends”

There may well be times when one finds it somewhat challenging to work together with other members, who may have different personalities or backgrounds. Young people, in particular, often find organizations restrictive and stifling, and many may think it is easier and more pleasant to be on one’s own. There is also a strong general tendency these days for people to try to avoid direct interaction with others. But that trend deprives us of the opportunity to make the most of our differing personalities, to praise and support one another, and to cultivate our capacities for tolerance and understanding. As a result, we may end up being unable to appreciate the pain and suffering of others, control our own anger or patch up even small differences and misunderstandings—producing negativity that at its very worst can drive one, or cause one to drive others, to violence, alienation, despair and even suicide. I’m sure everyone agrees this is a problem we must do something about.

A youth who shared a friendship with the great German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) in the latter’s later years confessed that though he enjoyed spending time with kindred spirits, he had nothing to do with others beyond this circle. Goethe responded with the following advice:

It is in conflict with natures opposed to his own that a man must collect his strength to fight his way through; and thus all our different sides are brought out and developed, so that we soon feel ourselves a match for every foe. You should do the same; you have more capacity for it than you imagine; indeed, you must at all events plunge into the great world, whether you like it or not.[1]Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Conversations of Goethe with Johann Peter Eckermann, translated by John Oxenford (New York: Da Capo Press, 1998), p. 59.

The important thing, when all is said and done, is to apply ourselves to our human revolution and continue practicing with steady faith that is like flowing water. The Soka Gakkai is our training ground in this effort.
The bright inspiration generated by our human revolution is building a realm of precious “good friends” in faith and serving as a light of hope for the future, illuminating the darkness shrouding our times.(December 2013 Living Buddhism, p. 30 and p. 32)

Notes   [ + ]

1. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Conversations of Goethe with Johann Peter Eckermann, translated by John Oxenford (New York: Da Capo Press, 1998), p. 59.