America needs some love

It is 2017, and we, Americans, are divided.

The recent presidential election and the subsequent national events we have all been living through illustrate that division better than any article, blog, or statistic ever could. We have been experiencing it firsthand, through headlines, through our communities, and through our feelings.

Every election brings the dichotomy of triumph and defeat, and in theory, the most popular side prevails. This type of division has been a part of our country since its birth, and it arises naturally from our diversity as a people.

In some cases it’s been healthy, inspiring oppositions to make themselves better. But right now, it is not a civil division. We are not treating others with the dignity and the respect that they deserve. The division is causing too much pain, and it is racking our nation.

Why there is division

The cause of the profound division, I think, comes from the way we merge groups of individuals in our minds and develop opinions about them as a whole.

The reason we stereotype and place labels on each other and on ourselves is to simplify complex social and moral issues that take time and thought to fully grasp. While stereotypes are sometimes harmless, always present has been the risk of oversimplification, of relying so heavily on these labels that we fail to understand people as individuals.

Labels do not tell us everything about a person. But where we are now as a nation, we are really struggling to get past the pictures we paint in our minds about what other people are probably like, despite the fact that we’ve never met them.

It is important to note that people are not becoming more evil or less compassionate. Rather, the world is becoming increasingly complex as global cultures swirl together. That added complexity compels us to rely more heavily on the labels and generalizations, which further marginalizes individuals.

So, that, in my opinion, is the problem. We fundamentally misunderstand people who live different lives, and hate and anger spring up from this fissure.

How we can address the division

I do not believe the answer is to dig deeper into the trenches with our ideals, or to build up the walls that protect our beliefs. This is not the time to gather our forces for an attack on the other side, or to build upward on the pedestals we use to vocalize our opinions about social or political issues.

How can we know what motivates someone when what they truly believe is surrounded by barbed insults and sharp words? When someone has to spend all of their energy fending off attacks on their identity, how can they feel safe expressing what they believe? How can we fight for something that inspires us if in doing so we are diminishing what inspires other people?

I believe that we need to climb up out of our trenches and expose our ideals, respectfully, for anyone who wants to listen. We need to take down the walls we relied upon for protection, and share our beliefs with others, and listen to theirs. We have to meet the opposition halfway and have a conversation, start to get to know them.

By doing all of those things, it will be much easier to understand one another.

Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.
— John Steinbeck

What we can do specifically

To say “let’s understand each other better” is a vague aim, so here is a concrete call to action:

If you agree with the sentiment I’ve described, that misunderstanding is the fundamental issue plaguing our country and that empathy will help us come together, share it.

You can share it with your friends on Facebook or your followers on Twitter, but keep in mind that in all likelihood, most of those people agree with you about most things — they’re the ones in the trench next to you, and you guys are comfortable talking to each other. This isn’t reason not to share it with them, but it does not address the problem head on.

To really embrace the idea of this writing, try also sharing it with someone from the other side of the aisle. Someone with a different political ideology maybe, or just a different way of thinking about things.

By sharing this belief with someone who’s not guaranteed to agree with you, you’re leaving the safety of your camp. You’re making yourself vulnerable, which is scary, but it also makes others more likely to leave the safety of their own camp — it invites a conversation.

If you don’t agree with the sentiment I’ve described, I’m equally as interested in having a conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts. There’s an easy way to write a response below.

My goal by writing this is to share my belief that there are far fewer “evil people” in this country than many of us are led to believe. The “other side” is not made up of villains, and they’re not out to get you. There are certainly different people, but those differences are not actually as important as we purport them to be.

I recently surveyed my Facebook friends about a wide variety of random things, and the responses I found most interesting were to the question,“what is most important to you?” Nearly every one of the 52 responses included one of the following words:

Love, family, friendship, laughter.

I sincerely believe that if you asked this question to any 52 people in the country, you would get the same result. The implication is that everyone in the country, and realistically, the world, values the same things — love, family, friendship, and laughter — above all else.

If that’s true, it should make it easier to let down your walls, to listen to someone who’s different from you, to be empathetic toward your fellow Americans. It might make you reconsider some of your own ideas.

Go find out, and show your fellow Americans some love.

Image from Chicago Tribune