Divided We Stand

50 people were killed this morning by someone who feared and hated them. Across the country on the same day, another possible mass shooting at a pride parade was stopped thanks to somebody’s phone call to the police. To proclaim horror over the epidemic of terror that America faces today would be preaching to the choir — it is something we can all agree needs to end. But an overlooked scary aspect of these events is that we can’t seem to agree on much else.

It seems to me that Americans are terrifyingly divided right now. Prevailing controversial issues, including issues relevant to recent attacks (like gun control, immigration, sexual rights, religious tolerance, and racism) overwhelm online conversation, and in light of a confusing, enraging, and disappointing election season, a political divide seems to become more and more apparent. Everybody has a passionate stance on the issues, but also a passionate and nonconstructive disdain for other opinions.

Between my family, friends, coworkers, peers, clients, Facebook acquaintances, and strangers, I come into contact with people with just about every different and passionate opinion out there. What I have learned from this is that there are people who I would classify as “genuinely good people” on every side of things. There people who work hard to live good lives and better their communities who fall prey to pretty extreme political agendas and who fall somewhere in between, but regardless put in effort to leave the world better than they found it in whatever way they are inspired to.

What so many of us seem to be losing sight of is the humanity and shared patriotic identity of the people behind these opinions, even though that is the key to gaining a greater sense of commonality. People are instead resorting to being jerks all across the political spectrum — Republicans and Democrats alike are calling each other idiots and spitting insults at one another on a daily basis, and failing to actually further conversation toward any progress whatsoever.

This morning’s events are another item on the list of reasons why we as a country need to get it together. The key word here being TOGETHER. We have more access than ever before to information that could inform a greater collective perspective, and many of us are completely failing to use it. We are especially failing to use the information available in the form of varied personal experiences. Just look at online comments on the breaking news about the attack. Many of us are having arguments that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear happen between 6-year-olds. “X is stupid!” “No it’s not!” “Yes it is!” “No it’s not!” “You’re stupid!” “You’re stupid!” “People who think like you do are worthless!”

THIS IS WHAT WE SOUND LIKE, and guess what? It fixes NOTHING in the midst of a crisis.

In fact, it is a watered-down version of the same hateful, bias-confirming thought processes that inspires people to shoot each other and blow each other up and behead each other. And it’s not just the Republicans or the Democrats or even the Independents doing it, it’s coming from all over the place, and it’s sickening. There is a huge lack of compromise in the conversation happening between current viewpoints.

In his response to the massacre this morning, President Obama spoke about how “attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.” He called on us to “not give in to fear or turn against each other … [and to] stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.”

An effective response to terror attacks inspired by hate would require the two things that he mentions:

  1. Unity (tolerance)
  2. Action (resistant measures against terror)

Yup, we need both! What a concept! But how will we ever manage to take any effective action if we cannot figure out a way to unite? How can we decide on solutions if we can’t manage to listen to each other? How can we make progress if we have presidential candidates on Twitter affirming a reality-show standard for how to interact with people who believe in a different approach to a common problem?

We all fear for the safety of ourselves and our fellow Americans, but what we don’t fear enough is our failure to carry a productive dialogue about it with our fellow Americans. This lack of successful communication is contributing to an us-vs.-them mentality that causes us to not even recognize one another as having in common the things that we really do share, and if history can teach us anything, it can teach us that that is dangerous.

The United States has survived climates like this one before. Neither the Civil War nor the continuing Civil Rights Era have managed to end the great American experiment yet. I have hope that we will, and I have faith that we can, come out on the other side of this time period a country still intact. Intact, and maybe even stronger.

But in order to do that successfully, we have to act like we all have faith in each other. We have to stop throwing mindless insults and start aiming for compromise. Otherwise we only perpetuate the forces that contribute to hate and terror in the first place.

In the aftermath of a terrible event, please think about what you can do to be respectful and productive. Stop reposting Facebook posts that talk about how stupid Democrats or Republicans are. Stop using tragedies like this morning’s as a platform for yelling at other Americans to support your political agenda. Stop perpetuating the juvenile, immature us-vs.-them mentality. Start grieving together so that we can act together.

Action will require unity. Unity will require listening and using our brains to think of creative compromises. Use this opportunity to send love toward all Americans against the common enemy we currently share, and be careful not to feed the common enemy with more refusal to listen to and consider one another.