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Advice to state lawmakers: Take risks, trust each other, find common ground

Here’s a crazy-sounding idea: What if, instead of regarding each other with
suspicion and distrust, Democrats and Republicans assumed the best of each
other?

What if partisan warfare was replaced by an atmosphere of mutual liking or,
dare I say it, even love?

That’s the deceptively simple premise of a new research initiative led by
Todd Pittinsky, a professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy
School of Government.

Frustrated by political leaders exploiting distrust of other groups,
Pittinsky is seeking to build an alternative model of leadership that goes
beyond tolerance. To do so, he has coined a new word–allophilia–which is
derived from Greek roots that mean “love or liking of others.”

Allophilia is the opposite of prejudice. It involves actively cultivating
not just understanding but admiration of other groups.

“Tolerance is not enough,” Pittinsky wrote in Compass magazine.

“Tolerance-promotion strategies seek to make the ‘other’ vanish into ‘us.’
But closer examination reveals this to be an elusive hope. Some differences
between people simply cannot be ignored or eliminated, and the neutral
stance of tolerance is not sufficient to keep these differences from
festering–leading to prejudice, open conflict and sometimes violence.”

At first glance, allophilia may seem like an impractical ivory-tower idea.
Research shows that people have a natural tendency to distrust other groups,
and the easiest way to unite a group is to promote conflict with others. The
only thing that ever brought the US and USSR together was their mutual fear
of Nazi Germany. Once the Nazi threat disappeared, so did their alliance. As
psychologist J. Richard Hackman put it, “the best way to get peace on earth
is an invasion from Mars.”

Allophilia has potential as a tool for solving California’s public policy
problems, but it can also be fragile and difficult to cultivate. Its
effectiveness depends on the willingness of both parties to subordinate
their mutually conflicting short-term goals and place a higher priority on a
common strategic vision.

Pittinsky, however, believes it can be done, and is working to develop
practical ways to harness allophilia to solve real world problems.

First, he has divided allophilia into five components–trust, socializing,
admiration, kinship and ability (believing that members of other groups are
intelligent and capable.)

Second, he has developed a test and scale for measuring allophilia in
individuals.

Armed with those tools, Pittinsky has launched a handful of projects to
apply allophilia to real-world policy problems: One project is studying the
relationship between teachers’ regard for their students and the students’
levels of academic achievement. Another is examining whether positive
attitudes toward Latinos can be used to predict U.S. citizens’ positions on
immigration and education policies. A third pending study will examine the
relationship between foreigners’ attitudes toward U.S. political leaders and
their attitudes toward the American people.

Pittinsky’s work has struck a responsive chord with Eric Douglas, president
of Leading Resources, a Sacramento-based consulting firm, who said he has
added allophilia to his arsenal of techniques for building engagement,
trust, respect and connectedness.

“Our mantra is creating real, meaningful change, and allophilia is one of
the outcomes we strive for,” Douglas said.

I asked Pittinsky to describe ways in which allophilia could be applied to
boosting legislative productivity.

He responded that the implications of the partisan gridlock that has
crippled state government in recent years go beyond “lack of cross-the-aisle
cooperation, thinking and cooperative action.” More significantly, he
believes absence of allophilia has led to “a lack of vision.”

Pittinsky believes cultivation of allophilia could help to break the
partisan logjams and lead to solutions to seemingly intractable policy
problems.

First, allophilia “opens up many more possibilities for constructive
engagement and collaboration, than mere tolerance,” he said. “Positive
intergroup goals


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