October 21, 2020
An article by Daniel Shapiro and Lucas Woodley: Are your relationships feeling strained these days? If so, you are not alone. In this unprecedented era, nearly all of us are feeling some degree of emotional imbalance. Restricted from carefree socializing with friends, family, colleagues, and strangers, it’s like we’re all in a global pressure cooker, and the temperature just keeps rising. This stir-crazy feeling has spread to politics. If you’ve broached a conversation with someone who holds opposing views on racial issues, health economics, or the political election, you’ve likely felt the effects of polarization. Things quickly can spiral out of control—leaving each of you frustrated, more entrenched in your views, and more divided. If you think these problems are getting worse, you might be right. Some scholars argue that the current levels of polarization threaten to unravel the social and political fabric of our democratic system (Levitsky and Ziblatt, 2018). It’s not hard to see why: If having a political conversation across partisan lines enflames conflict, how can we expect diverse communities to work together toward the common good? One of the most potent obstacles to good relations is vertigo (Shapiro, 2017). Unlike the medical syndrome of the same name, this type of vertigo refers to the everyday emotional experience of getting fully consumed in conflict, unable to think of anything beyond that situation. It’s like you’re at the center of a tornado, stuck in the conflict, and cannot see the world beyond the swirling walls around you. Conflict vertigo is a useful concept to remember the next time you find yourself edging toward a fight with a loved one or colleague, but what does it actually look like in practice?