Elif Shafak: How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division

October 22, 2021

“It is mostly through stories that we learn to think, perceive, feel and remember the world in a more nuanced and reflective way. As we gain a better understanding of the struggles of people from different backgrounds, and start to imagine lives beyond the one we are living, we recognize the complexity and richness of identities and the damage we do to ourselves and to others when we seek to reduce them to a single defining characteristic.”

“If wanting to be heard is one side of the coin, the other side is being willing to listen.”

“…we have become bad listeners and even worse learners. Whether in public or digital spaces nuanced debates are not welcome anymore. Instead there are clashing certainties… They are not there to listen and they are not there to learn.”

“If and when I am a reluctant listener, I will also become a poor learner. I will interact less and less with theories and opinions that do not agree with mine. And there will come a point when I will simply stop talking to people who are different from me.”

“When coexistence is undermined in this way societies become extremely polarized and bitterly politicized, ever wary of the ‘other side and their intentions’. Democracy, which is essentially about compromise and negotiation, conflict resolution and pluralism, a system of checks and balances, suffers from this constant tension and escalating antagonism… It is not a coincidence that all across the world authoritarian demagogues go to great lengths to incite and inflame polarization. They know they will benefit from it.”

Written by Elif Shafak during the pandemic and reading this amidst the cacophony of the Philippine political menagerie, this little book cannot be more relevant.

What if we can transform this age of division into an age of reading, connecting, engaging, listening, learning, examining our assumptions and stereotypes, expanding our minds, and softening our hearts? Who is willing?

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