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Fels Inclusive Public Leadership Series: How to Navigate Intergroup Differences in a Democracy

Christopher Kimrey, MPA '18
March 8, 2017

In the latest event of its Inclusive Public Leadership Series, the Fels Institute of Government hosted Dr. Fathali Moghaddam, Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University, on Friday March 3rd.  

Dr. Moghaddam’s talk deviated somewhat from the practical and hands-on application of the Inclusive Leadership series to the more critical aspect of why people behave in the ways they do regarding democracies. His talk was based generally around his most recent work on the psychology of democracy.

According to Dr. Moghaddam, all societies exist along a continuum between absolute dictatorship and absolute democracy. He suggests there are wide variations in the base term “democracy,” and that the idea and practice of democracy is not static but rather is dynamic, changing with the influences of globalism and shifts of cultures.

His talk is particularly relevant given current events. Discussions of immigration and the rise of ethnocentrism and nationalist movements, both in the U.S. and abroad, underscore his premise that the convergence of groups without adaptation causes sudden conflict. The sudden conflict results in perceived threats to base cultural norms and systems. This becomes the base for conflict and revolution. It is when fear is at its highest that despots, dictators, and demagogues tend to emerge.

Key to understanding and successfully navigating these intercultural group dynamics is building the necessary social and cognitive skills through which to evaluate our perceptions. These include:

-          Considering that your position on issues could be wrong.

-          Critically evaluating your base tenets and sacred beliefs.

-          If evidence requires it, you must revise your way of thinking.

-          There is something to learn from those who are different from you.

The above represent a few of the many tools taken from the Ten Characteristics of Pro-Democracy Individuals presented by Dr. Moghaddam. The behavioral characteristics of the ‘democratic citizen’ are a common ground all democracies should strive for.

Dr. Moghaddam’s lecture is a powerful reminder of the influence of cultural norms and cherished beliefs on multicultural interactions and inclusive decision-making. 

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Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu