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December 2020

Conflict, compromise, compassion; Better Arguments; Grieving a lost sister

In SAVVY, apply the three Cs to your family relationships, your clients and patients, or to your friends and neighborhood as well as bridging the political divide and the ongoing rancor.

In SKILLS, I highlight the dimensions and principles of the Better Arguments Project, a group with an initiative to heal America in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

In SOUL, two sisters’ relationship is severed prompted by the political divide and who voted for the “other side”. How about your family and friends?  Are you grieving over a fractured relationship?


I have been writing Tips and Topics for nearly 18 years.  I do it for you as well as for myself.  It helps me think through what I believe in clinical and treatment issues.  But it also helps me process the events of the day and issues confronting the greater society outside of behavioral health.

Last month I addressed solutions on bringing our country together after a bruising election season.  I am focusing on this one more time this month as I am still troubled by how fractured we are.

But the SAVVY and SKILLS tips this month apply across the realm of broken relationships to building bridges across disparate thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  So if you are tired of politics and the ongoing rancor, apply this month’s content to your family relationships; those of your clients and patients; or to your friends and neighborhood.  I think you will find solutions that have broad application.

Tip 1

Conflict can be helpful. Lack of conflict resolution is the problem

Whether it be an interdisciplinary team in a treatment program or a community made up of disparate world views, conflict is inevitable.  You can’t have people with varying life experiences, upbringings and cultural differences and not expect conflict and contrasting ideas. It is in the richness of diversity and resolution of conflict that even better solutions take form.

A contrasting viewpoint helps you clarify the shape of your perspective. If approached open-mindedly and open-heartedly, conflict and contrast sharpen your focus on who you are and what you want.

In the February 2007 edition of Tips and Topics, I proposed a conflict resolution policy to outline how everyone has the right and the obligation to voice their concens and then resolve any conflicts.

Tip 2

Compromise” is not a dirty word.  Consensus-building honors all opinions, but strives for solutions not standoffs; for coming together not falling apart.

In the September 2012 edition of Tips and Topics, I proposed a new political party called the “Compromise Party”.

The Compromise Party: 

  • “com-promises” with others to brainstorm on solutions believing that no one person or party holds all truth. 
  • That’s “com-promises” as in communicate, community, come together to promise solutions that consider all sides of a challenge. 
  • Com-promise that brings together the best ideas no matter where they come from, so long as the outcomes solve the problems.
  • We attack problems not people. 
  • We demonstrate for constructive collaboration; not criticize for destructive demonization. 

British comedian and activist Russell Brand hosts a podcast “Under the Skin”.  He recently interviewed actor and Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey who spoke out about political divisiveness and the need to “meet in the middle.” 

The answer, he says, is to “meet in the middle.”…… It’s free over here. There’s plenty of room. “Let’s get aggressively centric,” McConaughey emphasized.

In addition:

  • McConaughey called out the ‘illiberal left’ who “absolutely condescend, patronize and are arrogant towards the other 50 percent”.
  • He also criticized Hollywood figures and those on the “far left” who he says antagonize and belittle those with other beliefs.
  • McConaughey accused the left of missing opportunities to appeal to a broader audience when they alienate people with “gotcha” attacks.

Tip 3

Practice true compassion.  It is a process worth embracing.

  • “To be compassionate is to actively promote the other’s welfare, to give priority to the other’s needs.” (Miller, William R; Rollnick, Stephen (2013):  “Motivational Interviewing – Helping People Change” Third Edition, New York, NY. Guilford Press.p.20)
  • “The Latin root for the word compassion is pati, which means to suffer, and the prefix com– means with. Compassion, originating from compati, literally means to suffer with. The connection of suffering with another person brings compassion beyond sympathy into the realm of empathy.”
  • My own twist on “compassion”: com = with; passion = feeling strongly; active not passive; advocating for what you believe.  
  • By all means advocate for what you believe with passion.  But combine that with a commitment to conflict resolution and compromise and consensus.


Last month I highlighted the transformative work of Braver Angels, “a citizens’ organization uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America.”

This month in SKILLS, I am focusing on the Better Arguments Project, “a national civic initiative created to help bridge divides – not by papering over those divides but by helping Americans have Better Arguments.”  

I have formatted information from the Better Arguments website into a Tips and Topics style.  But the content is all that of the Better Arguments Project.

Tip 1

Don’t let arguments drive us apart. Apply these three dimensions of a Better Argument to bring us together

Three Dimensions of Arguing Better

  • Historical Context

Today’s civic arguments are rooted in history. Arguments- being able to reckon with differences and forge joint solutions are critical to a healthy American civic life.

  • Emotional Intelligence

A Better Argument is one in which all participants use emotional intelligence, understanding why the other party is taking a certain stance, rather than immediately negating that party’s opinion.

  • Recognizing Power

In many spaces of civil discourse, participants do not enter as equals and participants reckon with imbalances. A Better Argument requires being honest about power.

Tip 2

Five principles of a Better Argument apply to any relationship conflict at home, work or the community

Five Principles of a Better Argument

1. Take Winning off the Table

Conventionally, parties enter an argument with a goal of winning, or at least reaching resolution. Instead, the goal of a Better Argument should be framed as the reinstitution of civility to build a common community.

2.  Prioritize Relationships and Listen Passionately

A Better Argument places relationships at the center, and requires that all parties are truly listening to one another. Participants should listen to learn, not to win.

3.  Pay Attention to Context

A Better Argument acknowledges culture. Understanding the presence of culture in any debate increases its accessibility. Better Arguments within a community should begin with specific questions relevant to that community.

4.  Embrace Vulnerability

In civic life today, many Americans only engage with circles that confirm their own worldviews. One major reason why this withdrawal occurs is because entering a space of argument means making yourself vulnerable.

5.  Make Room to Transform

A Better Argument is a transformational experience for all involved. Without a goal of winning or even reaching resolution, the goal of a Better Argument becomes to change how we engage with one another in order to build a community.


Her sister has severed all family ties because my good friend voted for the “other side”.  This is a repeated story across the country.  Maybe this has happened in your family too, due to the political divide.

When my friend opened her sister’s email severing their relationship, she was initially angry, shocked, sad and confused – not unusual feelings considering the stages of grief. Half the country is working through stages of grief over the November 5, 2020 election results, including it would seem, President Trump.

It is a normal and necessary process that I hope we actually go through as a country.  If we don’t, we are going to have many more fractured families; and physical, mental and spiritual health problems in our communities.

My friend actually moved fairly quickly through her stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  She is more serene and centered than a week ago.

How is it with your family and friends?  How serene and centered are you?

I can tell you that these days, I am making sure I stick to my daily meditation practice.

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