Why Are We So Divisive?

Our political system is seriously messed up on both sides. We are intensely polarized and have lost the art of compromise; a skill that is critical to political success. We snipe at each other from our entrenched positions and refuse to give quarter or budge an inch. It is ridiculous.

We need to be able to speak respectfully with each other over issues we disagree on. We need to be able to consider each other’s opinions and be flexible. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t have all the answers to every problem no matter how smart I may think I am and I have changed my opinion drastically in the past based upon thoughtful reasoned debate with people I disagree with. None of us knows it all and none of us should trust that anyone else does either.

My wife and I are liberal democrats who believe in much (but not all) of the “liberal agenda”. We believe in social services, universal healthcare, and taking care of those around us in need. We have two very close friends that we care about who are conservative republicans who believe in self empowerment, personal responsibility, small government and much of the “conservative agenda”. We are opposite on the political spectrum but we are also quite a bit alike as people.

If you listen to the public discourse, you’d demonize your opponent. My wife and I should, by all rights, look at our friends as horrible people who have no heart, who don’t care about people less fortunate than themselves and who want to eat babies. In return, they should look at us as just a couple of hippies with no sense of responsibility, a couple who thinks the government should run every facet of our lives and who sacrifices babies to some pagan god.

The reality of it is that our friends are two of the kindest people I’ve ever met. The husband, especially so. He’s a retired detective. She still works in social services. He has spent his life protecting people and she spends her career making sure the less fortunate have a safety net.

He cares deeply about people and when someone needs something he’s the first one there to do it. He takes care of people who are sick, he brings food to friends and he is bothered deeply when he sees injustice. God forbid you ever abuse an animal in his presence.

She is a fiercely independent woman who feeds hungry people, buys gifts on a whim and is her sister’s biggest cheerleader and fan. She hurts when people around her are in pain and would give you her last nickel if you truly needed it. God forbid you ever abuse any truly needy person in her presence.

I can draw similar parallels with my wife and I, who also defy our entrenched political labels. I hate government snooping and interference. My wife and I are both devout Christians who believe in salvation and try our best to live a morally “good” life. We believe there are always consequences to our actions and that we have to be personally responsible for them. None of us are neatly understandable people who fit into pigeonholes.

If you look closely at our friends, you can see how their beliefs color the way they live. They believe that if someone needs help, you don’t turn to the government but instead roll up your own sleeves and go help them. They walk the walk and do this themselves, helping those around them. My wife and I believe that there aren’t enough people in the world like our friends who will truly help others and there should be a public safety net to help those people because in general, most people suck and won’t help.

Are we wrong? Are we right? No more or no less than our friends and we both have valid opinions and viewpoints. Demonizing the other side simply because we have different motivations and viewpoints would be stupid. Unfortunately, the way our current public discourse is going that’s what most people do. Instead of taking the time to disagree respectfully and truly listen to each other we try to distill everything down to little soundbites and memes and lob them at each other like bombs. We try to “score” points off each other like we can “win” which is, in a word, stupid.

Well, I’m going to take a page from our friends’ playbook on this issue. I see something that needs to be done and I’m going to roll up my sleeves and do it myself. I’m going to change one small thing that I do and see if I can use it as a catalyst to change the people around me as well. It may seem small and simple, but I believe it’s the first step in changing how people interact with each other and once we change that, we can start closing the gap.

One of the popular things to do on social media is to capture some complex issue as a small picture and “soundbite” and post it as a barb to the other side. We all have seen it and I’d venture to say we all do it as well. I know I certainly do. I did it just yesterday, as a matter of fact. This morning it struck me as ridiculous; how can I truly distill a complex person like my friend who happens to have a different opinion than I do politically down to a single stupid image and short series of words? I probably couldn’t explain who he is to someone who doesn’t know him in a million words, let alone a picture and short sentence. Do I want to “score” some sort of points off him? Hell no, I don’t. He’s someone I like and respect so why would I want to do that? Knowing him, I can’t possibly imagine he wants to “score” points off me either, he’s a much kinder and more thoughtful person than that.

The reality is that most people are just like we are. Most people are more thoughtful and reasoned than we truly give them credit for and to demonize a stranger is just as stupid and unproductive as demonizing friends. To that end, I’m going to stop posting those stupid memes and images and stop trying to “score” points off the other side with them. That doesn’t mean I won’t still have opinions and share them, but I will do my best to try and share them in a thoughtful fashion that invites discourse instead. I will attempt to avoid disparaging those who disagree with me and instead try to create an atmosphere of thoughtful discussion. I don’t pretend that I will always succeed but I will definitely try.

I will do my small part to bring people together and encourage thoughtful compromise instead of encouraging polarization. Who’s with me? Can we do this together? Are you in it with me?

One response to “Why Are We So Divisive?

  1. Bravo! so very true!

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