America's most wicked problem & living the learned experience of bridging differences
Welcome to The Fulcrum’s daily weekday e-newsletter where insiders and outsiders to politics are informed, meet, talk, and act to repair our democracy and make it live and work in our everyday lives.
Toxic polarization is wreaking havoc with our democracy, driving wedges between elected officials, alienating co-workers, and tearing friendships and families apart. It fuels the divisiveness between sides on almost every issue we face, from COVID causes to immunization; environmental concerns to global policy; abortion to gender rights. It is a wicked problem, characterized by animosity towards anyone who opposes our ideas about how to address the problems we care most about.
The term wicked problem may be new to many readers. According to Jon Kolko, author of Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving, a wicked problem is “a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.”
When I was eight, my family and I immigrated to the United States from Iran. It goes without saying that neither my older brother nor I learned the intricacies of democracy in Iranian schools—quite the opposite. If I hadn’t immigrated, chances are that I would have, like so many others, still desired to live in a democracy. After all, I’m the nephew of uncles imprisoned for being part of the Iranian pro-democracy student movement. But even this familiar connection is no guarantee that I would have learned about democracy, for such knowledge is not passed down to us through the gene pool.
This is why it is essential—in our self-governing society—to ensure each and every student in our country attains the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be informed and engaged participants in our constitutional democracy. As we approach the National Week of Conversation this April 17 - 23, in which we are called to make active efforts to bridge differences, we would do well to remember that this means learning, experiencing, and internalizing skills essential to a healthy democracy’s success—namely bridging and key related skills and dispositions like empathy, curiosity, and listening.
David Nevins interviews Graham Bodie, an internationally recognized expert on listening, about the National Week of Conversation: April 17 – 23, 2023.
New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie joins Politics is Everything to discuss a range of issues facing American politics, including misinformation and the fantasies of political separation, as well as what he would do to strengthen democracy. “Politics is about collectively deciding how we’re going to solve problems and how we’re going to govern ourselves. As that gets divorced from how people experience politics, it can have the perverse effects we’re seeing now,” Bouie tell us. Political conflicts aren’t going away, but reforming party politics and the structures that incentivize party competition may lower the temperature, Bouie argues.