Building Solutions in a Divided America

We’ve all heard it – the frustrated republican mumbling something about all these entitled leftist snowflakes thinking they deserve to be handed world peace on a silver platter.  The infuriated democrat railing against all the morons who don’t have the intelligence to care about science.

God knows we see it on social media.

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Photo by Eliška Motisová on Unsplash

To use my favorite example of immigration, those on the right may sometimes assume that those on the left want open borders and welcome terrorists, or those on the left assume that those on the right are all white nationalists who hate outsiders. While I clearly feel a certain way about immigration, even I can acknowledge that both of these assumptions are obvious misconceptions, and I think this is where the conversations and subsequent solutions are falling short.

To be quite transparent, I do believe that the policy changes on immigration by the current administration are hurting our country and those in other countries, and I also believe they are based to a degree on racist ideology.  I will be writing about that (you’ve been warned), but it is not my point here.  Do I believe that this means that anyone who supports the current administration is racist?  Of course not.  Most individuals’ thinking is much more nuanced than that, and I would never presume to label as evil the motivations of roughly half of our country.

What needs to be recognized is that the way in which we want to control immigration (or a host of other issues) may differ, but we can view this topic differently without falling into the category of wanting “open borders,” or the category of “being racist.”  When we paint those who disagree with us with an oversimplified red or blue brush, we are most likely factually wrong and we are also doing a disservice to finding solutions that will actually make our country better.

If we do want solutions that are born of rationality and American values that could actually muster enough bipartisan support to come to fruition and remain for the long-term, we need to begin to listen to one another.  These are a few ways we might begin:

  • Read and watch your news widely for a more varied perspective. No, mainstream media outlets are not publishing blatant falsehoods and making up “fake news.”  But yes, they are selecting and spinning what they choose to report in order to fit an agenda – and this happens in all sources, including those that lean left and those that lean right.  So, if you want a more accurate picture of what is actually happening, listen to both.  Read smart conservative commentators who analyze issues with some nuance and complexity.  Then read some progressive commentators who do the same thing.  Do this, at the very least, to understand what counter arguments to your own opinions might need answering.

 

  • Consider the sources, and form your own opinion.  I have a personal connection and therefore care a lot about immigration, and so do a lot of other people.  I read a lot of immigration news, and many opinion pieces as well, and I find it helpful.  But I also click the links to look at the sources directly.  Sometimes you’ll find that the author’s spin gives you a different impression than the actual data.  Other times you’ll find that the author doesn’t have any actual data. Finally, you may notice red flags that the author is utilizing the data to mislead.

 

  • Challenge your own thinking.  We all have tendencies to categorize people, but people are complex, and rarely fall neatly into boxes.  We all like to focus on the fringe of the most extreme or negative ideas/people on the other side, but the reality is that most people do not fall into the fringes. No one ever changed political parties because you tried to shame them about something you believe about them that was incorrect in the first place.

 

  • Another tendency we all have is to assume that those who disagree with us are just not as smart as us, or have selfish motives.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have our own opinions or speak out about what they are (on the contrary, we should), but it does mean that we should check our own urges to think we’re smarter or more moral than those who disagree with us.  It doesn’t mean that truth is relative and there is no right or wrong, but it does mean that we ourselves (or our political party or organization) are not the perfect authority on right and wrong, so we need to have the humility to learn from one another, even from those with whom we disagree.

 

  • Stick to what you know, and keep an open mind about what you don’t know.  The fastest way to discredit your own opinion, is to voice one without any knowledge of the topic.  You have smart, important things to say.  But if you don’t do some research before sharing those things, you may set yourself up for embarrassment or worse, you may lead people astray (who also haven’t done their homework!)  Most of the time someone will come along and try to educate you, at which point it pays to be curious rather than defensive.  I like memes as much as the next guy, but if your knowledge of a topic does not extend beyond a meme, you do not have knowledge of the topic.  Very few things are as simple as they appear in a single phrase.

 

  • Lastly and most importantly, build relationships with people with opposing viewpoints and from different backgrounds.  One caveat – don’t build a relationship with the ultimate goal of changing someone’s thinking to agree with your own.  It is inauthentic and ineffectual.  Build with the intent of listening and understanding their perspective, and see if you can find common ground on which to build.  Relationships are a powerful antidote to both political and racial division, but they are also a great way to figure out what matters to someone else, and effective solutions are built when people on differing sides find something that meets the needs of both sides to an acceptable extent.

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