“Better Together” is a new series addressing our Nations’s greatest problem, our growing separation from one another.
In a recent survey, more than fifty percent of college students said they would refuse to date someone from the opposite political party.
A lot has changed since I was in school!
Earlier this year, I had a phone conversation with a high school buddy with whom I’ve maintained a friendship for over fifty years. In it, he remarked, “I don’t know about you, man, but I think Trump was the best President our country has ever had!”
Politics hadn’t come up before in our 50+ years of friendship. Without going into it, I said we would have to agree to disagree on that one, but my buddy kept pressing the issue. Over time, I found myself avoiding our periodic chats.
What were formerly differences of opinion have become lines of demarcation. Today, where one lines up on the political divide tells more about that person than almost any other single factor.
In short, politics have become a new religion.
This fascinates and concerns me. How do friends and family members come to see the world so differently? I decided to look deeper into our Nation’s growing political polarization. I found no shortage of theories for root causes.
Some claim alternative viewpoints arise from differing economic opportunities and educational backgrounds. Others claim it’s fallout from rapid social change. Still, others suggest our differences are amplified by social media outlets that spin increasingly narrow infrastructures of truth.
These seem like partial explanations at best to me.
I spent my teenage years in the late 1960s and early 70s. Song lyrics from that era have renewed relevance in these divisive times.
An example is Buffalo Springfield’s anthem “For What It’s Worth.” The song opens with Stephen Stills’ haunting guitar harmonics:
“There’s something happening here
What it is, ain’t exactly clear.”
The song continues:
“I think we better stop.
Hey what’s that sound
Everybody look, what’s going down.”
I’ve been trying to do that. But I haven’t come up with any satisfying answers beyond the obvious. We don’t understand each other. Worse yet, we seem crazy to one another, and as a result, we’re growing apart.
I consider this growing separation to be the Nation’s most significant problem. Not since the Civil War has the country been so divided.
I reject the notion that the root cause of our division stems from one political leader or party. A more accurate explanation points toward shrewd political operators tapping into a strong social undercurrent that isn’t well understood.
“There’s battle lines being drawn,
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”
I’m an optimist by nature. I believe our Granddaughter’s future will be bright. At present, however, I see storm clouds on the horizon. Today, increasing numbers of people believe their views are more important than our democratic process. That feels dangerous to me, and I’m not alone. In a recent Quinnipiac Poll, 69% of both Republians and Democrats said that our Nation’s democracy is in danger of collapse.
This past July, I decided to take a month off writing to free up time to put deeper thought into this issue and what we might do to reverse the trend.
We’ve stopped listening to one another. Our animus is not directed at “fringe” elements, the country is split down the middle, and we’ve come to see our opposites as enemies rather than fellow citizens.
Were he alive today, my father, a man I deeply respected, would be firmly situated on the “other side.” Could I deeply respect and be willing to take life council from someone on the “other side” today? Could you?
As a young child, Dad insisted I work with him in the yard on Saturday mornings. I wasn’t much help, but that wasn’t his motive. He used our time together to impart his work ethic and life philosophy.
One Saturday morning, when I was maybe six years old, he asked me to pick up a stick about three feet long and roughly the thickness of my thumb. He then asked me if I was strong enough to snap it in two. Eager to show off my muscles, I quickly broke the stick. Then Dad asked if I could hold the two broken pieces together and snap them in half. It was hard, but I was still able to do it. Finally, Dad asked if I could bundle all four pieces together and snap them in half.
I couldn’t do it, at which point Dad became very serious. “You have learned an important lesson today, Tim,” he said. “When a person stands alone, he can always be broken, but when a family stands together, they can never be broken.”
I’ve remembered that day for sixty years! I’m pretty sure Dad’s wisdom applies to the Nation as well.
Reflecting on this, I’ve decided to change how I view our political polarization. Rather than trying to understand our differences, I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to focus on our shared humanity.
Context is reality, meaning no less than a radically new context will be required to reunite the country.
To heal our separation, we must learn to see through eyes of unity, rather than difference.
I’m not suggesting that we change our beliefs and opinions; instead, I am saying that we must learn to view the world differently. We must learn to engage each other from the perspective of our shared humanity.
This won’t be easy! Substantial “Inner work” will be required.
The grace of seeing the person that offends us as the person we love won’t be acquired overnight! We must prepare for grace. When it arrives, it will feel like wisdom we did not earn.
Over the next five weeks, I will offer my thoughts regarding the “hows” of healing our separation for your consideration.
A house divided will not stand, which leaves an important question:
“What do we stand for?”
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