What can a dog park teach us about bridging great societal divides?

By Timothy L. Fort, PhD, JD, Eveleigh Professor of Business Ethics, Kelley School of Business at Indiana University

In this video, actually filmed in a dog park, Tim shows how dogs can turn other dogs – strangers and members of other packs – into friends. Then making the dog park into a metaphor, he shows how we humans can go beyond our own identities and packs to find common ground with those we may disagree with on social and political grounds.

The name of today’s game seems to be “us vs them.” Certainly here in the United States, but in many places around the world, divisions seem to become starker and more irresolvable by the day. Sadly, some see it in their self-interest to stoke those divisions. There may be only so much anyone can do to stop such exploiters of differences, but there is something that can done to use positive messaging to bridge social and political divides. To be sure, some have used culture as a weapon; but cultural artifacts can also build bridges in the workplace, in communities, and even on social media.

Nelson Mandela, for example, used sports (rugby to be specific) to address social divisions. In World War I, Scottish, French, and German soldiers came out of their trenches – literally – so celebrate Christmas with music, sports, religion, and trading.

This TEDx Talk builds on these notions in suggesting that we human beings can learn quite a bit about bridging social divisions by going to a dog park. True, dogs are not cultural artifacts; they are biological beings. But the way we have made them into our pets does make them into artifacts and the way they interact with each other – learning to play with a different “us” without being disloyal to their original pack – holds lessons, I suggest, for we humans.

So, to record this TED Talk, I went to a dog park and in this video propose the dogs and many other artifacts may provide some steps to bridging our social divides by offering us common ground to be civil with each other, even amidst our differences.

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