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May Pang 💖

How to Reduce the “Stacking Tax” in Your Relationships

Published 4 months ago • 3 min read

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I want you to play a guessing game with me.

It may give you a little insight into how accurate you are at gauging human character.

If you’ve recently endured a Thanksgiving dinner or are about to endure a Christmas dinner where you’ve sat across a family member with diametrically opposed political views and wondered, “Can I really have a relationship with this person?” — this may be especially pertinent to you.

Ready?

Over Thanksgiving, I spent time with two groups of people. Let’s call them the Open Group and the Closed Group.

In my time with the Open Group, I felt deeply seen. They asked me many questions about my thoughts and listened with genuine curiosity. They also showed a lot of willingness to explore things I shared with them further. I felt a deep resonance and a strong feeling of shared humanity.

In my time with the Closed Group, our conversations felt shallow and repetitive. There was an undertone of intellectual smugness and it felt like they didn’t believe there was more they needed to learn on most topics. They were also more interested in sharing their opinions than trying to understand me as a person.

Here are the commonly used societal labels for each group:

One of these groups is highly religious, staunch Trump supporters from the South who vehemently believe that the election was stolen, and that climate change is just a political bargaining chip.

The other group is highly educated Biden supporters from California who have traveled widely around the world and are passionate about homelessness and climate change.

Be honest now — which do you think is the Open Group and the Closed Group?

If you guessed that the Open Group was the Biden supporters and the Closed Group was the Trump supporters, you would have been wrong.

By now, you may be smart enough to suspect that I set you up to give the wrong answer. But it doesn’t change the truth that there wasn’t enough information in each description for you to actually be able to guess which group would be genuine and curious and which group would be closed and stubborn.

New York Times columnist, David Brooks, refers to this practice as stacking. In his book How to Know a Person, Brooks explains that stacking is when you learn one fact about a person and make a whole series of additional assumptions that you immediately think are true for that person.

You might be thinking, “Is stacking based on voting preference really a problem?

After all, there are enough people sharing your political preferences in the world that you can be friends with. Besides, stereotypes exist for a reason. There must be enough correlation to justify it.

I used to think this, too.

This was until the people in the Open Group entered my life several years ago and quickly became some of the most fulfilling, supportive, and pivotal relationships in my life.

I’ll confess that I didn’t seek them out by choice. Our meeting was a stroke of luck.

However, it quickly became clear to me that I had used a singular label, “Trump supporter,” to exclude everything amazing about a huge percentage of the American adult population including those who could be life-changing friends.

I could see that I was missing out on understanding parts of life that were not politically charged issues by only seeking out people who were already like me.

Then I began noticing the emotional tax I was paying for stacking in all the other aspects of my life. Especially when it comes to relationships with people I didn’t get to choose — like my family, neighbors, or colleagues.

So, I started asking myself, “How much emotional tax have I been paying? How does this affect the wider society?”

The short answer to both questions is - Far more than I thought.

After all, the best thing you can do for climate change or major issues of any significance isn’t to reiterate your beliefs amongst those who already agree with you; it’s to influence those who don’t.

You may also be unknowingly paying a higher "Stacking Tax" than is necessary if you're having a hard time finding a partner, friends, or your tribe. It's possible that you could be unnecessarily excluding amazing people based on an uncorrelated metric. After all, we often practice stacking with more labels than just political parties.

Find out how you can reduce the stacking tax in every aspect of your life by reading the article I wrote on it.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on my writing. Please feel free to reach out by responding directly to this email or emailing me at may@mojomint.com


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May Pang 💖

Connection & Communication Coach

Your future friend. I write to help you create deeper connections with yourself and others. Storytelling + Hard Science + Actionable Steps + Humor. Often with a dose of rebellious personal growth. Join 22k+ people on this fun ride. I don't always know where I'll take you, but I promise you it'll always be fun!

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