Navigating collaboration in a world of polarisation

There is nothing new about this polarised world. From crude remarks made by one election campaigner regarding another, to much larger disputes of power, disagreements and wrongdoings have always plagued society. This is not the first time the world has felt like everything’s about to go up in flames. What is different now, is the sheer amount of deserving voices that have gained their platforms. This one is still a white man’s world, but the workforce is diversifying. Minority groups are still being silenced, but some voices are coming through. Rather than seeing this as an asset, some take it as a threat to their authority because their point of view has never been contested before. 

As insecurity often breeds hostility, the response to a diversifying society seems to have resulted in polarisation. It’s a shame, considering that it is a difference of opinion that brings about the most constructive of growth. How other people choose to act, however, is not in our power. We can only control how we respond. 

It may feel like a tonne of responsibility. How do we respond to an impending feeling of doom because of our environmental impact? Or to poverty, driven by the very economic system from which we benefit? How do we respond to the transphobic stickers that were put up across our very own central campus?

Making the world a safer place is no easy task but it cannot be left in hopes that someone else will take care of it. 

Recently an attitude of “protecting our energy” has begun to spread across the internet. What may seem like a comforting thought, can easily become a cop out. Not to say that we should not take care of ourselves and our wellbeing, but if it is not our emotional labour that will improve our community, then whose will? If we are not ready to engage and educate about our experiences and knowledge, then who will? 

Not only must we take a stand, but we must do so together. Collaboration is a powerful tool for change. What is one recycled plastic bottle to the major legislative change which will eliminate plastic bottle production altogether? 

A key asset of collaboration is that it allows us to broaden our horisons; to see the world through a lens diverse from our own. Working together on issues, even mundane day-to-day dilemmas, pushes us to expand our outlook. It forces us to use our human capacity to empathise. 

At university, we encounter people with attitudes distinct from our own on an almost daily basis. In our lectures, our tutorials or even on our daily commute, we become attuned to an array of difference. Yet, so many of us don’t take advantage of this. We stick to the same friendship group, clinging on to our comfort zones, ignoring the endless possibilities placed so directly in front of us. 

It would seem that this sentiment has not quite caught on in the wider world. With the 29 March and the inevitable exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union looming, cooperation does not seem to be at the top of many political agendas. Scaremongering and aggravation is rife in 2018. 

Choosing who to collaborate with can be challenging. While it remains crucial to branch out, collaboration can be a double-edged sword. Yes, freedom of speech and opinion is a basic human right, but our freedom ends where another’s freedom is being impeded. Freedom of speech should not be used as an excuse for hate speech. It cannot be a defence for bigotry. Collaborating with groups of different opinions may be beneficial, but not if the so-called opinion is hatred in disguise. 

Hatred doesn’t deserve a platform and it should not be given one. Without open-mindedness there cannot be growth. Without a willingness to change, there cannot be progress. 

This value extends to ourselves too. We are perpetrators of a system to which we have to be complicit, but that does not mean that we should ignore it. We should work on understanding and spotting our prejudices. 

The current model of diversity in the western world has many flaws in itself. When looking at a group of collaborators, it is the people of colour who are considered the “diversity”. White people still make up the perceived foundation of a team. It is still the white people who make up most of the team. Such an approach can lead to only a handful of people of diverse backgrounds on a given team and can even be a form of silencing, as the “diverse” figures’ voices are often overpowered by the more populated ones. This model of diversity is often called the “chocolate chip cookie” model. White is the dough and some chocolate chips are thrown in here and there. Is this the kind of collaboration we want to be striving for? 

Much of this hatred of diversity is formed by ignorance and much of this ignorance is generated by a fear of collaboration. People fear what they do not understand and from that fear sprouts hatred. As the proverb says; a problem shared is a problem halved. It seems incomprehensible that we are still stuck in this vicious circle of denial. The benefits and rewards of collaboration are right in front of us and yet we choose to ignore them. This has to stop.

But we should not let this fear impede us. Yes, there are loud-speakers blasting hate, bigotry and fabrications on every street corner. Yes, they are impossible to suppress, silence or ignore. Yet, it is through working together, through seeing the benefit in diversity, that we can overcome the polarisation rooting its way into society.

Image: Eric Maldre via Flickr 

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