Today’s story is little more than the smashing together of two fancy words that I learned recently.
(And, actually, one of them I made up.)
Schismogenesis is the word for a process where apparently close neighbours somehow end up defining themselves in direct opposition to the other.
Protestant and Catholic, Conservative and Labour, Mods and Rockers, Reds and Blues: despite sharing so much, we lurrrrve to amplify our divisions and differences.
In Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson show how tenaciously we tend to cling onto our sides of the argument (or indeed angle on reality), no matter what evidence or alternative is put before us.
As the editors at Wikipedia succinctly summarise:
It describes a positive feedback loop of action and self-deception by which slight differences between people’s attitudes become polarised.
Fuelled by cognitive dissonance and the confirmation bias, that’s (at least one element of) schismogenesis in action.
Antischismogenesis is my made up word for the reverse process: a divided people finding — and building upon — common ground.
(Or at least the ability to notice where difference exists and retain the openness of mind to continue to listen.)
While antischismogenesis does happen naturally — chuck a couple of reasonably open-minded, relaxed humans together and it’s surprising what common ground they’ll find. What, you love pizza too?! — it can seem that schismogenesis is the weightier force, particularly insidious as (for most if not all people) it rarely happens with malice aforethought.
What we need is a concept that will guide us towards, not malice, but benevolence aforethought…
Equifinality is the fancy word for ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’ (or, indeed, that gruesome idiom’s even more graphic progenitor: ‘there are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream’).
Equifinality is almost a state of mind.
There so are many different ways of ending up with similar-looking results that it’d be INSANE to judge anyone because they aren’t doing it exactly like you or because they don’t look like you or talk like you or even think like you.
Sometimes you’ve got to let them do it their way.
In fact, you could say that the spirit of equifinality is exactly what we need to find in order to rebuild our communities through antischismogenesis.
What we need is a mouthful: antischismogenetic equifinality.
Go on, give it a try — if nothing else, it’s fun to wrap your tongue around.
How we actually do antischismogenetic equifinality is another matter entirely.
The Discerning Traveller’s Comprehensively Empty Guide To Antischismogenetic Equifinality (On A Shoestring)
As it’s a concept that I just made up, there is no behavioural toolkit for antischismogenetic equifinality, but I bet it’d include all the usual tricks of the communication trade:
- Learn about the ordinary human tendency for schismogenesis between in-groups and out-groups. Done ✔️
- Notice where schismogenesis has nurtured division in your own life. What kind of people are in your circle of friends, colleagues and nodding acquaintances?
- Notice when you are actively manufacturing division from others. Don’t forget that division isn’t all blazing rows and fisty-cuffs. It’s most often as mundane and insidious as silent prejudice.
- What’s your internal monologue when you pass a member of the out-group in the street? How about when you hear your favourite worst enemy on the radio or read about their latest egregious behaviour in the news? If you’re anything like me, you’ll despatch with relish the three Ds: dismiss, deny and denigrate.
- Learn about and notice your own susceptibility to the cognitive biases that make us all think that we’re not only the best, but also sparkling exceptions to any and every rule. Cognitive biases, our mental blind spots, are like a baseball bat to the knees of equifinality.
- Interrupt the opening of any division with extra-ordinary behaviours, which usually begins with you reaching out in a spirit of curiosity. Nonjudgemental curiosity is the practical precursor of equifinality.
- Ask open questions (instead of leading questions), listen for what others want to communicate (instead of what you want to hear) and check that you have understood others as they want to be understood (instead of how you’d like to label them).
- Employ random acts of kindness to set spinning a virtuous cycle of connection between strangers.
But I bet you’ve got a million other ideas and I’m totally here for them. Hit the comments.
The author would particularly like to thank Davids Graeber and Wengrow and, as ever, the editors at Wikipedia.