Healing A Nation Divided

The lid is off the simmering pot of this bold, beautiful experiment we call democracy. How will we move forward without it boiling over?

The election has demonstrated with seering clarity that we are a nation of people with widely ranging beliefs, exercising our constitutional values of freedom of speech, freedom to worship the god of one’s own choosing, or no god at all, freedom to bear arms, the right to exercise control over one’s own body and to love the person of one’s choosing. A nation built on the hard work of immigrants, each of whom came here seeking a better life, while a gripping drama unfolds on lands that once belonged to native people’s who are still fighting for their greatly diminished corner of the world upon which we continue to encroach. It is all on view to the world, this crazy patchwork quilt of values, beliefs, and myths, myopic and grand — this is the America we have built and now are struggling so hard to lead.

When did we become so divided? When did we become a nation where winners want to take all, and losers choose to oppose every move forward? When did we put aside notions of respect, tolerance, inclusion, listening, and love, to demand individually each to have our own way?

It strikes me that this election’s fault line may have something to do with the parent we most identified with as a child. We have had two powerful father figures, one kindly and generous, one authoritarian and unforgiving, and a strong matriarch who wields her power through making a place at the table for all her children while many rebel against her authority. Quarrelsome uncles and one aunt belittled each other into oblivion. And a black sheep or two are nipping away at the powerful matriarch and patriarch, unlikely to topple either, but potentially drawing enough loyalty away from the mother, that father may prevail.

We, the electorate, are behaving like squabbling children, shouting at each other through social media, incessantly seeking confirmation bias of the veracity of our opinions through hostile and seducing media, luring us into their daily sensation traps feeding the dopamine and anxiety centers of our brains. When did we revert to early childhood behavior of demanding to have our own way by truculently throwing a tantrum? When did we forget the skills and values we were taught as children and in our families, to share, to compromise, to listen, to respect?

What is the path forward for our nation if we can’t return to a set of beliefs that recognizes that if we can’t compromise, if we can’t listen, if we can’t respect the views of another, if we can’t share, if we can’t have civil discourse, that we will paralyze our great nation, one that was founded on the belief that all beliefs and words are valuable, even perhaps dissolve into a modern form of civil war of words, thought and violent deed?

I know that I have heard loud and clear that there are many in this nation who feel left behind. Unfortunately, this election has also preyed on people’s fears. So much so that people are truly, deeply fearful of each of the “other” leading candidate, one of whom will presumably prevail in the election, leaving an entire group of people fearing they will be disenfranchised further or that our nation will regress from the social progress of recent years that as of yet has not brought economic progress to everyone.

How can we move forward together? If we can’t, we stand to lose the very values that created this nation.

First, I believe we must choose to participate, not withdraw from this conversation. By participate, we must vote, we must listen, we must hear, we must respect and we must talk with each other. We can be kind, generous and compassionate. We can be the light that reaches out to someone less fortunate. We can compromise or give ground to find common ground.

We can each ask ourselves what someone else’s deeply held fear really means to them and have meaningful conversation about these fears. How can the anger and hatred this campaign has unleashed be channeled into something positive? Can our elected leaders, from local to national model a spirit of compromise by reaching out to shake hands? Can we start by doing this within our own families and among our friends?

I believe we can and that is why I started this conversation. Because on Wednesday morning, presumably we will awaken to having elected a new leader of this nation from one or the other party, one that nearly half the country vehemently fears or loathes. I don’t want America to be a land where half the nation loathes the other or feels like a loser. That is not a world I want to live in — I want to make a place at the table for all, whether the candidate of my choosing wins or loses. I hope you will join me.