Wow. What a week it’s been. Could anyone have predicted this election cycle, including the plot twists and turns that happened weekly during the past two years? Like many Americans, I can say that I have never experienced the divisiveness and hatred that I’ve witnessed during these past two years. Like most Americans, I can also say, “I’m glad that’s over.” But is it, really? Something ugly was stirred up in our collective reality. Can we ignore it? Can we afford to? I can tell you from painful experience that ignoring a festering wound by covering it with a Band-Aid just makes things worse.
As Americans, we are not used to dealing with so many major divisions at one time. Usually, our nation focuses on one problem at a time: racism, sexism, poverty, gender issues, freedom, unemployment, to name a few. At this moment, however, none of us can say that the issues facing our country are limited to a special interest group and don’t affect us. Most of the pain our country is feeling is something each of us can relate to on one level or another. The pain is felt most keenly.
If we are to heal the divisions that have been brought to the surface (and some issues were already on the surface, but are just harder to ignore now), we MUST address them. We must have difficult conversations like we have not had before. I’m talking about open forums, town hall meetings, one-on-one conversations. I’m not talking, though, about the one-sided talking heads who shout down all opposition. I’m not talking about the trend to listen only to those who agree with us. I’m talking about listening deeply to one another. That means listening with an open heart, an open mind, and with love. Can I really love someone who believes X, Y, and Z? YES! Those are the people I am specifically called to love. It’s easy to love the people who think like I do. It’s those who disagree with me that I struggle to love.
This is something that we used to do in this country, but we’ve gotten out of practice. We used to have civil debate. It was considered bad form to shout down those who disagreed with us. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I’m saying we’ve turned it into an art form; the norm rather than the exception.
How do we begin? I would suggest that in order to heal this country, we need to focus on what unites us, not on what divides us. We each have things that make us unique, and those are important, but let’s start by focusing on what we have in common and begin the conversation there. We may share a love for the Cubs. We may realize we were both born in Oklahoma. We may not have known that we are both big fans of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I suspect that once we find common ground, we will find that we have mutual respect, if not mutual fondness and friendship. If we can begin our civil conversations with what we agree on, I suspect that we will agree on 99% of things.
Let’s not just put a Band-Aid on the ugliness that was stirred up. Let’s heal the infection. Let’s keep our eyes on what unites us, not what divides and begin talking WITH one another, not AT one another.