Perhaps a dividing line somewhere in the middle of the US would do the trick.
We could just draw a horizontal line somewhere in the middle of the United States. All those of one mindset can move to one side, and the remaining ones can move to the other. (A vertical line won’t work. A left and right divide is probably just too obvious.)
We could end the facade of listening to one another and considering other viewpoints. We could stop pretending that there is any common ground to be had, or any real chance at compromise. We can just move to an area where the people are all exactly like us and we can all co-exist happily. And if we cross our fingers and hold our collective breath, perhaps we’ll never disagree about anything again.
We’ll have to “unfriend” everyone whose viewpoints are different than ours, of course. Lucky for us, there’s a handy article being shared around Facebook that offers simple instructions to find, and then unfriend, all your contacts who “like” Donald Trump. It claims you can “drop them like a bad habit” and then “enjoy a bigot-free Facebook feed.”
In my case, that would include 31 of my friends: friends who are intelligent, experienced, politically involved people. Friends who have served this nation in uniform and personally sacrificed for our citizens. Friends whose faith is a vital part of their lives, and others whose family members have worked for years as first-responders in their communities.
Is this really what we’ve come to? Ending our contact with people who disagree with us? Basing our relationships solely on a shared set of political beliefs?
I don’t know why my friends have thrown their support behind Trump, largely because I haven’t asked. But even without knowing, I have not lost sight of what I do know about them. And I respect their right to decide for themselves whom to support, without becoming emotionally involved in their choice.
One of the friends who shared the link about unfriending people is a person I greatly respect. There is very little that he and I agree on politically, but we have had some great discussions about difficult topics, and I admire his candor. I wonder, though, if he would really unfriend me if I found some of Trump’s viewpoints thought provoking?
This is a microcosm of what is lacking in this country.
We are largely unwilling to engage in any kind of debate with those whose viewpoints are different than ours. Oh, we’ll argue. We’ll shout our viewpoints from our social media pages and then unfriend anyone who has the audacity to disagree.
But it’s the listening part that we’ve lost. It’s the desire to try to understand another viewpoint that we’re losing.
We are allowing politicians from both sides of the aisle to further divide us, and we’re blindly following along. (And yes. Both sides are doing it.) We are buying into the idea that we couldn’t possibly even remain friends with the people who support the other side.
Women should be angry at men. Blacks should be angry at whites. The lower class should be angry at the upper class. Gun owners should be angry at the gun-control supporters and pro-choice people should be angry at pro-lifers.
We can do better than this. And in fact, some of us are.
I saw an exchange between two young sports enthusiasts on the Internet recently. One was railing against a pitcher who had under-performed in an important game. The other agreed that the performance hadn’t been perfect, but he suggested that the pitcher had built a good career for himself overall, despite the poor performance. And instead of the flame war I thought was coming, the first party agreed that the pitcher had served his team well. And then the second party agreed that the pitcher’s recent performances had been disappointing.
They found a way to hear each other, and find some common ground in the discussion. And though you might argue that this is a much less emotional issue than, say, abortion or gun control, the tenets are still the same.
- Listen. When the other person is talking, fight the urge to mentally begin building your case against him. Resist the urge to pick apart his argument. Instead, listen. Hear what he is saying.
- Consider. Allow for the possibility that at least some of what the other person is saying is true. In fact, go a step further. Force yourself to find one small truth in what the other person is saying. If she says the middle class is suffering at the hands of the 1 percent, be willing to agree that the middle class is in trouble. Both parties agree that the middle class is shrinking. Voila. Common ground.
- Compromise. By definition, it is an agreement made when both sides make concessions. That means that each side will have to give something. There are few, if any, examples of compromise left in our government any more, but we should not accept this as an inevitable truth.
- Identify. Determine which issues are non-negotiable for you. But realize they can’t ALL be non-negotiable. Decide on the ones that you cannot possibly waver on, and then be willing to give ground in other places. The other person’s non-negotiable may be a place that you can concede a bit of ground. And your non-negotiable may be movable for him.
There is common ground to be had. There may not be much of it, but we have to find it. And there may be some places that we will agree to disagree. But respectful, honest discourse is an excellent start.
Best case: We return civility to our political discourse.
Worst case: We find that politics really do trump friendship.