Ten years ago, it was different. At least I think it was.

My circle of friends and acquaintances extends to people on both sides of the political aisle. Each of my closest associates give love to people who can never repay them. The people whom I trust most have more important issues and concerns in common with me than politics. Some of the people who I trust favor party E. Others endorse party O.

Last decade I could have a conversation with people of either political persuasion. They would be civil and forceful advocates for their perspective. They could acknowledge that there were a few people on the other side who were sensible, intelligent and had a good heart.

Take two people I know well… one in each of the two opposing parties. Recently I heard each of them speak with volume and vigor about the people who differ with them. It seems extremely hard for either of these two dear people to acknowledge there is even one person on the planet who disagrees with them politically and who is intelligent, informed, and has noble motives. That’s an awful pity.

It’s also a horrible loss. Our parents and grandparents saw themselves as Americans. In a national crisis their default setting was, “We are all in this together.” Now my perception is that too many of us believe that the other side has caused the bulk of the problems and THEY (the other side) should pay for it.

I probably thought the same way until a friend suggested I watch a TED talk he called “Wrongology.” Katheryn Schulz spoke about what she learned writing Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. It was one of the most profound revelations of my adult life.

Schulz described how many of us act when we encounter someone who disagrees with us. First, we assume that person is poorly informed. Once they understand the truth, which we can tactfully reveal, then that newly informed person will join us on the wise side of the table.

Alas, even after we enlighten them, the other often doesn’t switch sides. Next, we assume our buddy is a little slow. We try to give the information in child size bytes so that even the dimwitted can grasp the truth. Sometimes that doesn’t work either.

That’s when recognize the unfortunate reality. The other person simply has base motives. They’re selfish or evil. When you think that way, you put yourself in a horrid place.

It’s horrid because you imagine yourself surrounded by evil idiots. You must be wary and on guard, lest those folks do you wrong. Perhaps it would be more reasonable to start by assuming those other folks have about average intelligence, are sincere, and want to do good.

Maybe you’re perfect. I’m not. Too often I don’t completely understand my own motives. I’m almost useless when speculating about others’ motives. In contrast we could begin with the assumption that other person has good intentions. You can always adjust from there.

Katheryn Schulz wrote her book a decade ago. If she wrote it today, would she have to account for people who start by assuming everyone who disagrees with them is an evil idiot? It seems like many people do just that.

Am I alone? Does it seem to you that civility is melting? If so, what if anything, could you do to be peace maker, a bridge builder?


Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.