What we need is not to disagree less, but to disagree better. And that starts when you turn away the rhetorical dope peddlers — the powerful people on your own side who are profiting from the culture of contempt. As satisfying as it can feel to hear that your foes are irredeemable, stupid and deviant, remember: When you find yourself hating something, someone is making money or winning elections or getting more famous and powerful. Unless a leader is actually teaching you something you didn’t know or expanding your worldview and moral outlook, you are being used.
Next, each of us can make a commitment never to treat others with contempt, even if we believe they deserve it. This might sound like a call for magnanimity, but it is just as much an appeal to self-interest. Contempt makes persuasion impossible — no one has ever been hated into agreement, after all — so its expression is either petty self-indulgence or cheap virtue signaling, neither of which wins converts.
What if you have been guilty of saying contemptuous things about or to others? Perhaps you have hurt someone with your harsh words, mockery or dismissiveness. I have, and I’m not proud of it. Start the road to recovery from this harmful addiction, and make amends wherever possible. It will set you free.
Finally, we should see the contempt around us as what it truly is: an opportunity, not a threat. If you are on social media, on a college campus or in any place other than a cave by yourself, you will be treated with contempt very soon. This is a chance to change at least one heart — yours. Respond with warmheartedness and good humor. You are guaranteed to be happier. If that also affects the contemptuous person (or bystanders), it will be to the good.
It is easy to feel helpless in the current political environment, but I believe that is unwarranted. While we might not like the current weather, together we can change the climate to reward leaders — and be the leaders — who uplift and unite, not denigrate and divide. Watch: The weather will start to improve, and that will make America greater. I am dedicating the rest of my professional life to this task.
Mr. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of the forthcoming book “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt,” from which this essay is adapted.