How do we bridge this divide that is gripping our nation?
The current discourse and rancor between left and right is not only painful, it’s dangerous. In fact, there are so many words I can use to express my emotions now – scared, frustrated, angry, confused. On my best days, I am able to focus on the common good and the hope I have in humanity. But there are those days when I find myself slipping into despair and helplessness, and this is one of those days.
I remember in 1992 when, Rodney King, a black man who had been beaten by police when resisting arrest, said “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?” in his appeal for calm after the acquittal of the officers set off rioting in Los Angeles. I beg for the same today. This constant cruel, hateful, dangerous discourse is all too painful. Call me naive, or idealistic, but I really want my kumbaya.
Putting aside who is “right” or “justified” in their opinions for the moment, whose science or statistics are the “truth” (and even having to put the word “truth” in quotes feels wrong), my question is – what do we do? How do we all come together as a united nation – as the United States?
My answer, my hope, and I guess my request, is that we start as I do when I work with families where there is fighting and disrespect. I know as a Parent Coach that relying primarily on discipline and an authoritative approach does not reduce the chaos and disobedience, rather it often enflames and exacerbates problems that exist. Growth, cooperation, and success for all happens through real, trusting, open relationships. The challenge is, once there has been so much fighting and disrespect – how do you come back together? We must create a way to safely have a conversation.
I suspect at this point many of you are thinking – but “they” don’t want to listen. Perhaps the first question you may need to ask yourself is – do you? If our intention in having a conversation is to convince the other person that we are correct or to get them to change their behavior, then why would “they” want to show up?
Have you ever, by chance, ended up in a conversation with a stranger and found yourself understanding and even empathizing with them about their perspective on an issue – even though you still totally disagreed with their position or belief? I have, and it can open your eyes and heart to experience that the “other people” are not necessarily wrong, they may just be living a very different life experience than you are. I am afraid we are often too binary in our thinking, and in our judgment of others as well. We focus on disagreement and extremes. When we do that, we miss the areas where we actually can agree. I do believe MOST people are reasonable. And if we can find agreement among most, then that is where laws that are more reasonable can occur. Maybe part of a “moral compass” needs to include recognition that different people are living very different lives – and need we can respect one another’s different needs as a result. We must be careful when we assume that those who disagree with us are not people with good intentions.
Just as I recommend to parents who are in a constant battle with their children, to bridge the divide we must start by just spending some time together, in neutral territory, and with no set goal other than to get to know one another. We must start to see the humanity in another person’s experience. Of course, this alone will not dissolve our differences and bring solutions to the complex policy issues that face our nation. But it’s a healthy, safe way to start.
Below are several conversations and organizations, large and small, that are dedicated to bringing people together in meaningful ways for opportunities to bridge our divide. Please check them out and consider joining one that speaks to your heart.