Seven Difficult Steps Toward Unity
The word "spectrum" can describe the rainbow of light and color. It can also describe the range of political views. Recently, the American political spectrum has been compressed into only two options: left or right, liberal or conservative.
This compression, this line of demarcation, is absurd and inaccurate. People don't divide this clearly, and issues don't divide this clearly.
I think this angry polarization that divides our nation is artificial. In my mind, its creation comes from a number of sources. It serves neither the country, nor any of the rallying causes. It only serves the power structure that, in turn, serves only the very few.
The sources of our nation's bipolar disorder include the "dumbing down of America." This has been an intentional campaign over the past forty years to make sure that the average American isn't too smart. Why would we want to do that? Again, it serves the political structure that empowers and enriches the very few.
An older and more far-reaching source is simple dualistic thinking. When everything boils down to the eternal battle of good vs. evil, or "for us or against us", it is easy to polarize our national conversation. Dualistic thinking is a true impediment to consensus and cooperation.
Another source is the American news media. Owned by the very few, the media lays the battle lines in clear black-and-white. The under-educated public, already trained in dualistic thinking, eats it up. After all, it's easy, isn't it? Just chose between red or blue, left or right! There are no hard decisions to weigh, and there is nothing to research. Then, an American can proudly say they belong somewhere. The somewhere they belong is no longer on a spectrum, or a continuum. It's on one side of a scale, or the other. The sad fact is, that scale can never, ever balance.
While we are all busy pointing fingers at those on the other side of the scale, blaming them for all the world's evils, the really dangerous forces in the world are able to operate without much interference. Many people see this truth, and long for national unity. The catch is this. Unity will not come without diversity, or in spite of it. Unity can only come through diversity. My elderly aunt used to say that it would be a pretty boring world if we all thought the same way about things. Years later, I see the wisdom in this more clearly than ever before.
My grandmother often quoted Evelyn Beatrice Hall's famous statement; "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It seems this concept is far less valued by modern Americans than it needs to be.
This July Fourth was bittersweet for me. It is sad that our nation is so angrily divided. In Washington, the "Aisle" is like a mighty river that cannot be crossed. In the media, the extreme voices shout the loudest, and seem to believe they speak for us all.
I'm not sure what it will take to fix this, but I have some ideas.
1. Don't leave the job of education only with the schools. Schools give our kids primary skills and provide free day care, socialization and a sense of basic workplace expectations. It is our job as parents to teach our kids to be critical thinkers, motivated researchers and self-determined decision-makers. To that end, take your kids to the library once in a while. Read with your children. Ask them their opinions, and ask them to back up their opinions by discovering actual facts. If their opinions differ from yours, be pleased. It's called evolution.
2. Remember that people who think and feel differently from you aren't evil. They aren't "bad guys." You and your like-minded friends aren't "good guys." At the end of the day, we all love our kids and we all want what's best for the country, and for the world. We just differ on what we think that "best" actually is.
3. Don't imagine that our country's policies can ever be tailored for your specific beliefs. Compromise is the answer, not the problem.
4. Consider this. Freedom of religion is a basic American right. Legislation dictated by religion isn't.
5. Remember that a leader who changes his or her mind is not necessarily a waffler, or a flip-flopper. When we learn new information, sometimes we change our minds about something. This is called growth. It's a good thing.
6. Don't quote or believe statistics without a legitimate source. Any jerk can create a Facebook meme that uses numbers to make a point. Find out the veracity of those numbers before you become outraged.
7. Here's another thing to consider. Just because a person claims to have a religion does not mean they have a moral center. And just because a person doesn't claim a religion does not mean they don't have a moral center.
So what is it going to take to find national unity? I think we need to honor things like diversity and compromise above hardline adherence to dogma. I think we need to be suspicious of politicians who use fear and anger to motivate us. I think we need to understand we can have basic morals without dictates from a specific religion. I think we need to be critical thinkers, and question everything we read and hear. We need more respect, and less ridicule. We need more facts and less fiction.
I don't think any of this will be quick or easy, but I know it can happen. We just need to be more intelligent than we are angry.