Social polarization to be addressed March 29 at Ripon College

“Civic Virus: Why Polarization Is a Misdiagnosis” will be presented in a Zoom conversation March 29 by the Center for Politics and the People and the Department of Psychology at Ripon College. The presentation will run from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. Central Time. Registration can be accessed at ripon.edu/Polarization.

The speaker is Richard C. Harwood, president and founder of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in Bethesda, Maryland. He has devoted his career to revitalizing the nation’s hardest-hit communities, transforming the world’s largest organizations and reconnecting institutions like newsrooms and schools to society.

He recently published a report on what is troubling Americans now about our civic society. The report is based on 16 in-depth conversations with small focus groups of Americans in various parts of the country. The report concludes that people are separating and segregating themselves from one another because of unrelenting fear and anxiety about what’s happening around them and to them.

People in the focus groups said with absolute clarity that polarization is being spread by leaders, news media and social media. Participants indicated, however, that ideological polarization is not the problem, but a symptom of something deeper. Divisions in the country are intrinsically about social and psychological conditions – such as fear, anxiety, and a lack of empathy and belonging.

The study also makes recommendations on how to reduce this isolation and anxiety by creating local networks of communication across dividing lines among citizens of different social and ethnic backgrounds.

Brian Smith, professor emeritus of religion and co-director of the Center for Politics and the People, will moderate this conversation.

Harwood is an innovator, writer and speaker. Over the past 30 years, he has developed a philosophy by which people can learn to solve common problems, create a culture of shared responsibility and deepen civic faith and has put it into practice in all 50 U.S. states and 40 countries.

His experience working on the ground to build capacity and coalitions for change gives him a unique and powerful insight on bridging divides and creating resilient communities. He has written six books, scores of articles, and groundbreaking reports, and frequently appears in national media.

The text of Harwood’s full report, “Civic Virus: Why Polarization Is a Misdiagnosis,” as well as an interview with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press Daily is available at ripon.edu/FullReport.


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