This is an invitation to look deeply but kindly within yourself and work with others to fight the toxic division that’s tearing our country apart.
Based on decades of research from Columbia University Professor and Starts With Us Expert-In-Residence Peter T. Coleman, Ph.D., it is designed to help shape new habits and norms for political tolerance and courageous compassion. Think of it as a personalized boot camp for building a healthier national culture and repairing broken relationships across differences.
Each day, you will be offered different options for the Challenge (from light to moderate to heavier lift) that can take as little as 5 minutes to complete. Try to do one-a-day to get in the habit, and keep it up for as long as you find it useful – hopefully eventually working through each of the four building blocks described below.
It is organized into four building blocks that help build a solid foundation for sustained change:
Building Block One focuses on addressing your own divisive habits
Building Block Two focuses on reintroducing honesty and tolerance within your political ingroup
Building Block Three focuses on tensions in your more politically-estranged relationships
Building Block Four focuses on mobilizing in cross-partisan groups to tackle shared concerns
Thousands of Americans are joining the Challenge…AND WE NEED YOU!
America has become increasingly divided for decades, and it is making us, our homes and communities toxic. More extremist voices tend to control our national political conversation, while the rest of us become increasingly disgusted, disillusioned and disengaged from it all. This only widens the gap between our perceptions of their extremity and triggers more extreme feelings from us — creating a never-ending vicious cycle.
We provide you with different options for each day — starting with as little as 5 minutes a day. We don’t expect you to do every exercise but ask you to try one a day. We labeled each exercise to show the level of time commitment (low to high lift) so that you can choose whichever exercise will work best for you.
The good news is that research has shown that the following five actions increase our chances of breaking free of toxic polarization. Try these five practices over the next four weeks to help shake up how division is showing up in your life.
Destabilizing times like ours can be fertile ground for changing our more entrenched patterns — but only if we take advantage of them by committing to a significant reset; that is, by pausing sufficiently to be reflective and intentional about the next path we choose.
When we find ourselves trapped in the vicious cycles of polarization, it is best to figure out what is already working. So rather than trying to fix the problem with some new idea or program, first find the bright spots — the people or programs that are already working effectively to mend the divide.
When humans face challenging conflicts, we tend to prematurely simplify them and fall into Us vs. Them thinking. We can avoid this by intentionally complicating life. That means developing new habits of thinking, feeling, acting, and living that allow us to tolerate and learn from contradiction, nuance, and opposition.
When agonizing conflicts leave us feeling trapped and confined in an Us vs. Them world, consider movement as a salve. Neuroscience research has found that physical movement can help us to break free of ingrained patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting. And moving together — side by side — has shown to promote empathy, rapport, and flexibility.
1. Check Out the Science. To begin, take a moment to review the 5 scientific principles outlined above (from the book The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization).
2. Start Small. Begin with easier (5-minute) exercises to get going. If this 4-Week Challenge still feels too much, try our 7-Day Courage Challenge first.
3. Locate the Tension. Start by reflecting carefully on how polarization is damaging your life and relationships, your role in it, and potential partners you might identify to reach out to. Make a note of it.
4. Make Time by Subtraction. Develop a clear sense of what you could stop doing each day to make time for these activities and reflections, like unplugging from your devices for an hour. It helps!
5. Find a Friend. Consider doing this challenge with a friend or co-worker, so that you have someone to complain to and celebrate with.
6. Innovate! If you feel so moved, design your own activity. Review the principle for the day, and give some thought to how you want to try it out.
If you find that the Challenge is helpful, please share it with your friends, family, co-workers, and community! We can do a lot by ourselves, but we can’t shift our culture of toxicity unless we do it together. Remember, it starts with us.