Recently I watched my nephew tell his father, in the midst of an argument, “You don’t see it the way I see it, and I don’t see it the way you see it.” Then he took some deep breaths to compose himself and changed the subject. He had realized that he was not going to convince his father of his point of view. He knew how to stop arguing before he started accusing his father of stupidity or unfairness, but he didn’t know how to resolve the issue at the heart of the argument. I internally applauded his maturity, but felt somewhat sad that there couldn’t be a next step, with each side being willing to take the other’s perspective, leading to a search for common ground and compromise.
It seems to me that our nation is in the midst of a number of arguments where we have taken sides against each other. Now our need to be right is making us angry. Each side is trying to bully the other side into submission, and the uglier it gets, the more entrenched we become in our positions. Demeaning those who don’t agree with us doesn’t convince our opponents to see things our way. We oversimplify issues instead of seeking common ground from which we could make progress toward compromise.
We need to work together to resolve serious issues, such as: what roles government should play in the lives of our people, how to achieve justice for all Americans, how to keep our children safe and healthy, how to educate our population to be effective citizens in a participatory democracy, how to respond to environmental degradation, how to manage the effects of rapidly changing technology on work and leisure, what role America should play on the world stage. Instead, we languish in shouting matches with each side accusing the other of morally reprehensible behavior.
So long as we remain polarized, we will remain angry, feeling alternately powerless and powerful, with no real national wisdom or compromise possible. If we are truly “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” we should be able to have difficult conversations without trying to win our point by insulting each other. The government of a democracy represents the people of that democracy, and our people are pitted against each other. The promise of America is diminished by the mob mentality of making us “for” or “against” simplistic versions of complicated issues.
As a school teacher, I recommend cooperative problem-solving, not bullying or vicious competition. I recommend thoughtful listening and reflection before making pronouncements or taking critical decisions. I recommend taking personal responsibility and voting for someone who can work effectively with others to tackle the serious questions facing our country.