Media pundits and politicians continue to promote the idea we are a divided nation. This is true. There are many areas of conflict, in particular, we seem most divided among political and religious lines. But I don’t believe we are all that divided. The media thrives on reporting on conflict and fear because they know that will keep people tuning in. They are helping to create this illusion of separateness with reports that support a sense of tribalism.
We can choose differently
Why are we willing to accept what we are told about people who act and think differently from us? Is this feeding our ego need to be right, or feel superior? Perhaps, but I surmise it is mostly because we are lazy and lack curiosity. It is much easier to assume people who think differently are dumb, selfish and evil than it is for us to get past our biases and seek common ground.
Finding collective answers to the problems that plague our community is hard work. It involves lowering our defenses, listening and then engaging in a process of give and take. We are unfamiliar with this kind of exercise because others have swayed us to operate within the model of winning and losing. This means we react rather than listen to what other people say with their counterargument.
Government and business have successfully used consensus building for years to get large groups of people to agree on a compromise for a solution, mission and goals. There are no winners and losers when building consensus, but doing so allows people to move forward with action they can all support. There are also no absolute right answers, but consensus built leads to measurable progress. It also involves a give and take from every member of a group to allow solutions that incorporate the ideas from all sides. In other words, all members take into account that what others say also has value. This is exactly the attitude we should hold dear when we encounter someone who disagrees with us; their opinion also has value.
Are we addicted to the drama?
Look around, everyone is like you. They are just trying to figure things out as they go in life. No one is static. What you believe today changes with new knowledge and experiences. For this reason, we should not hang on to our beliefs as absolute or use them as dividing lines. Being right is an illusion, so why is it that, when we find someone who disagrees with us, we close our minds and hang on to our beliefs as they were a blessed talisman that will keep us safe from their evil thoughts? It is easy to conclude that we like the drama that comes from seeing ourselves as separate and better than others. Our differences get our blood boiling and keeps us tuned in to the gossip that wrongly affirms we are superior.
Whether we agree or disagree with someone, we have a lot more in common with them than we believe. This is why I am certain that people with unlike minds in some areas can still come together and resolve most of the world’s problems. But first we must drop our labels and judgments so that we can find the value that they offer.
Sometimes the gap between two minds is too wide to build a bridge of agreement across it. But, even then, we must discipline ourselves to respect that individual and value what they can contribute.
Now more than ever, we need to unite, as community, nation and as people of the world. This begins with the premise that everyone has a valuable purpose to contribute. It is time for each one of us to stop our finger pointing and blaming. We must reach out to one another in love, unity, service and with a true desire for peace and harmony.
Remember, paying gratitude for your life forward will reward you with great joy and contentment.
Photo by Nicholas Green on Unsplash