In this lesson, students explore the implications of various postures (hit, hug, handshake, and heal) toward political differences and examine media stories for signs of these stances.
- Students will examine biases in a pair of current events stories.
- Students will be able to explain how a posture of hit, hug, handshake, or heal can affect our engagement with political differences.
The way in which we engage with those around us is not just a matter of words. We can communicate with our eyes, showing our attentiveness by making good eye contact or our boredom by our aimlessly wandering eyes. We can communicate with our bodies, communicating anxiety or hostility by crossing our legs and arms, closing ourselves off from the person that we are talking to. We might physically lean into a conversation to express our empathy and interest or turn away to terminate an encounter. Some people are hand-talkers, making large gestures with their hands as they speak. Many of these non-verbal gestures we learn from our families or communities. Whether we are aware of it or not, we end up developing the same gestures and postures as those with whom we spend the most time. In this lesson we apply this image of learned postures and gestures to our postures of our political engagement.
An important intuition at work in this lesson has to do with recognizing that we are more than our rational selves, and that more information and more talk do not necessarily resolve the hostilities that emerge between us. Our basic postures toward the world often come from less conscious sources, from models and stories and feelings. As you approach this lesson, bear in mind that it should not be viewed as an exercise in picking the right answer, but as the beginning of a more holistic exploration of who we seek to be as we engage with others who are made in God’s image.
Preparing the Activities
For this lesson you will need:
- Presentation slides
- Before class, find a selection of brief news pieces focused on the same current story but representing contrasting political stances. Two useful resources for locating these are the media bias chart (a chart of media sources based on their political slant and the reliability of their information) and AllSides (a site that gathers stories from different points of the political spectrum on a range of current issues and presents an article from the center, the right, and the left for each story). Find two to four examples from the left and two to four from the right. Focus on examples that focus on matters around which there is societal disagreement. Make the list available for students as a slide or handout.
Teaching the Activities
Phase 1: Media investigation (15 minutes)
Provide students with the two lists of links and ask them to choose one from each side and read the articles in pairs. Tell them that as they read, they should look not just at the information presented, but at how it is being presented. Display the following questions (slide 1) for students to make notes on as they read:
- What do the news sources agree upon?
- How does the news source want you to view the debate?
- Where do you notice potential bias in each article?
- Does the article state or imply a stance toward those who have a different view?
Phase 2: Postures (20 minutes)
Ask students to set aside their findings for the moment and display the images on slide 2. Reveal each picture in turn and ask students to call out single words or phrases that describe what they associate with the picture.
Show slide 3 and ask students to describe what is happening. Elicit some detailed speculation – how is each person feeling, what might have just happened, what does each want to happen? Accept a range of responses, but keep the tone serious, insisting that students try to empathize with the people in the picture. Ask students how they know so much without having access to any of the words spoken?
Transition by pointing out that we are always communicating with more than just our words. The content of our conversation is one part of our communication, but our posture also sends important signals about our intentions toward others. Sometimes it speaks louder than the words. (You could demonstrate this by, for example, saying that you have been really pleased with the class’s work so far while modeling a hostile or indifferent posture.) Ask students where we learn our postures and where we learn what situations to use them in; elicit that they are learned largely from imitating the behaviors of our families, communities, and those we observe through media. We end up reflecting the same postures as those with whom we spend the most time. Mention that if we are not aware of our postures, we can be sending messages that we did not intend.
Next, tell the class that we are going to focus on posture as a way of thinking about our political and civic engagement, focusing on our hands as an example. Show slide 4 (a repeat of slide 2) and reintroduce the three stances. As you show each one, ask students to describe what each might look like as a response to people with whom we disagree on political issues. Draw out the following ideas:
Faced with differences…
( 1 ) We can hit. We might resort to hitting someone out of anger, but also as an act of self-defense or aiming to protect someone else. Hitting often arises from anger, fear, or a sense of hurt. As a metaphor for political engagement, hitting might represent those times when people respond to a policy or to a person whom they regard as a threat or as dangerously wrong. In the moment of hitting, being right or feeling vindicated is more important than getting along. Conflict, heated debate, digging into one’s own positions, and focusing mainly on finding ammunition against opponents are the marks of a hitting approach. A hit-approach to political engagement puts a high emphasis on being on the right side and having the right perspective win the day.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of a hitting approach?
(2) We can hug. A hug is an intimate embrace and can be given out of a desire to comfort or as an expression of peace or welcome. Hugging often arises from a desire to show empathy or solidarity. As a metaphor for political engagement, a hug might represent those times when people try to ignore or iron over differences for the sake of peace, even if it means leaving issues unresolved for the sake of the moment of connection. In the act of hugging, the desire for unity wins out over a concern for being right or achieving the right outcome. Lack of resolution at the level of beliefs or issues, or perhaps even a setting aside of questions of truth, is accepted for the sake of connection and care. A hug-approach to political engagement puts a high emphasis on unity and getting along with others.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of a hugging approach?
(3) We can extend a handshake. A handshake often occurs during somewhat more distanced greetings where there is an implied agreement not to be hostile. The origin of the handshake, historically, lies in the act of offering the hand that could be holding a weapon to show that aggression has been set aside. Business deals or contracts are often accompanied by a firm handshake by the two parties who have agreed to work together where their interests overlap, even though their overall goals might be different. As a metaphor for political engagement, a handshake might represent those times when people are willing to compromise despite acknowledging strong ideological differences in order to work toward a common goal. The handshake might represent a more transactional approach—one side might be willing to concede on an issue in order to gain something on another issue or to gain imperfect progress. A handshake approach to political engagement puts a high emphasis on compromise and cooperation as a way forward.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of a handshake approach?
After introducing and briefly discussing each image, discuss further with students:
- Are there certain situations or kinds of policy decision where certain responses—hit, hug, or handshake—are more or less appropriate? Explain.
- What other metaphors can you come up with to help represent political engagement?
Phase 3: Healing Hands (12 minutes)
Read Luke 22:39-51 aloud and ask students to read along using slide 5 or Bibles. Mention that when we read these words about Jesus’ arrest, we often forget that Jesus was coming face-to-face with some of the most politically powerful people in the world: representatives of the Roman Empire. Then ask students to read the passage a second time silently and look for instances of hitting, hugging, or handshakes.
After students have re-read the passage, ask them to share their observations on how the different people in the passage are relating to political power. One of the disciples “hits” the high priest’s slave. Judas has “shaken hands” with the authorities and insincerely “hugs” Jesus.
Ask students what other responses in the passage are not covered by the hit/hug/handshake stances. What does Jesus do that does not fit these three options? What temptation do you think he was referring to?
- What might “heal” look like as a response to conflict in the political realm?
- What is the cost of a healing response?
- Is it important that Jesus prayed? Why? How might the way that we pray affect our posture?
- How might “heal” be different in practice from “hit/hug/handshake”?
Phase 4: Media revisited (15 minutes)
If time allows, or for homework, ask students to revisit the two articles that they read at the start of the lesson. Ask them to discuss with their partner these questions:
- Are there examples of hit, hug, or handshake in the events or actions that the articles describe?
- Are there signs that the person who wrote each article is adopting a hit, hug, or handshake response to the issues about which they are writing?
- How might a heal response make a difference to the issue or the way the articles respond to it?
Consider how to have students respond. This could include:
- Sharing findings and suggestions with the class.
- Journaling on how the four postures discussed are evident in their own experience of political discussions.
- Redrafting the story with a heal posture to the fore.
- If applicable and feasible, deciding as a class to take some concrete action related to the issue discussed in the articles.
Political Stances and Stories
In this lesson, students explore the affective aspects of polarization and apply the hit, hug, handshake, heal framework to their own political formation.