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Who's in the Video

Todd Rose

Todd Rose is the co-founder and president of Populace, a think tank committed to ensuring that all people have the opportunity to pursue fulfilling lives in a thriving society. Prior[…]
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  • Most Americans share common aspirations for themselves and the country. The problem is that they don’t believe that most Americans share their values.
  • Regardless of gender, race, geography, income, or education level, most Americans share eight of the top ten values, such as individual rights, a quality education, good healthcare, and a criminal justice system that operates without bias. Americans want to be treated equally regardless of their background, and they want to be able to go as far in life as their ability and aspirations will take them.
  • Having so much in common — indeed we have more in common than we have differences — provides a starting point for building community and trust.

Collective Illusions is brought to you by Stand Together: a community of changemakers tackling our biggest challenges.

TODD ROSE: Most Americans actually share common aspirations for the country. The problem is that they don't believe that most Americans share their values. The problem is a collective illusion.

A collective illusion is a situation where most people in a group go along with an idea that they don't with simply because they incorrectly believe that most people in the group agree with it. How tragic would it be if we gave up on this American experiment, that the we the people is smaller than we imagined it to be simply because we misunderstood each other.

So what do we prioritize moving forward as an American people? The American Aspirations Index was Populace's effort to understand the private trade off priorities that the public has for the future of the country. We simply asked participants whether they thought we were more divided or united as a country. Not surprisingly 82% of respondents said we were more divided, and half of those people said we were extremely divided as a country. And yet when we put those same exact people into this private opinion instrument it tells a different story.

If we take politics out of it and just look at demographics, regardless of your gender, race, geography, income, education level, we share eight of the 10 top priorities we have in common, and they are nothing short of core American values.

People care about individual rights, a quality education, good healthcare and a criminal justice system that operates without bias. They want to be treated equally regardless of their background. And they want to be able to go as far in life as their ability and aspirations will take them.

But it almost feels like it can't be true because we're all operating under this collective illusion of widespread disagreement and division in society. The biggest illusion of all is the illusion of division. We have very sharp divisions on just a small handful of issues, but because they are so intense it is misinterpreted as widespread disagreement across the board. But disagreement on process is the heart of democracy.

Let's pick the places where we actually have common ground but the illusion is convincing us it's not true. You think about something like the First Step Act. One of the biggest criminal justice reforms in my lifetime was accomplished in part because you brought together people who you didn't even think would talk to each other and made common ground around a common cause, right? More of that is needed and it absolutely serves the need of the American people.

Unity for the sake of unity is false consensus. We don't want to paper over real differences. What we want is a culture where we treat each other with respect so we can adjudicate those differences in productive ways. The strategy really is bridge building, it really is using unlikely alliances to accomplish amazing things together.

And so a call for unity will fall on deaf ears, a call to treat one another with respect and dignity that every human being deserves will actually puncture the illusion of division, and allow us to accomplish more together as a people than we could possibly imagine right now

NARRATOR: This series is brought to you by Stand Together, a community of change makers tackling our biggest challenges. And to learn more about how you can partner with Stand Together, visit standtogether.org.