How do you bridge the divide…?

November 12, 2015 9:09pm
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Whether it’s conservative/liberal, young/old, religious/atheist, black/white, or any combination thereof, we’re as divided of a society as we’ve ever been and any random look at comments on Facebook hints that the situation if anything is certainly getting worse, not better.

No doubt the issue will be front and center like it usually is at Thanksgiving dinner tables around the country here in a couple weeks, and I don’t know about you but believe it or not, I don’t want to fight with my family! I want us all to laugh and eat and talk about interesting things and challenge each other with new ways of thinking but without calling names … so how do we actually bridge that divide?

I admittedly don’t have the answer to this, but I think part of it starts in trying to understand where the other side is coming from. Of course, this too can be hard because my explanation for why someone might think the way they do might make sense to me, though it isn’t necessarily a settling one for the other party…

For example, I sincerely believe for better and for worse that a lot of the differences between me and my relatives back home stems simply from population and exposure – it’s hard for some people to really get their arms around the problems that black people face in America today when they live in a small town that’s less than 1% black. Nobody wants to be told that they’re racist, but when you make a joke about hanging a black man from a Christmas tree because you honestly don’t understand how absolutely horrible of a “joke” that really is, limited exposure to people who are different than you is one way that helps to explain why you might think the way that you do.

I think the real challenge here, however, is then breaking out of that mold to widen one’s own world view – even if it’s merely around the turkey-laden dinner table – because we’re all guilty of settling in with those who think and act the same ways that we do. It makes sense because it’s safer, but when people who only subscribe to one political party’s mentalities only interact with each other and don’t co-mingle with the other side of the coin, it just builds those walls up higher and stronger and the divide seemingly becomes even further ingrained.

People get defensive because they’re so used to only talking to other people that agree with them that an opposing opinion suddenly comes off as hostile, to the point where actually hostile comments start to get lost in the crossfire, and from there an honest debate seems pretty much impossible.

Several things really need to happen…

  • Both sides need to be willing to come to the table.
  • Both sides need to be open for debate and to legitimately hear the other side’s opinions.
  • Likewise, both sides also really need to understand their own opinions so that they can articulate them to the other side without resorting to ad hominem attacks.

I don’t even think that both sides need to be willing to change their opinions, although it certainly makes intellectual discourse easier, but hearing and acknowledging the other side is critical to actually having a discussion where both people can walk away feeling good at the end of it all.

There are some things that two sides will never see eye to eye on – take homosexuality, for example. I myself stand very firmly in the realm of equal rights as an extension of civil rights, whereas I know people who draw their lines based on their religious beliefs, and some more that are in between on the various nuances that make up just this one complex issue. And that’s ok, at least between two people, though it gets muddier when we have to look at the larger picture and how society is going to treat homosexuals in the 21st century.

But that’s how we get there is by sitting down and spelling out the differences, and figuring out where we disagree and where we surprisingly might actually agree a little after all.

And it’s hard, and all of those divisors give us plenty of fuel to not make that effort and to instead bunker down and fling poo over the wall at the crazies on the other side … which can be amusing for a little while, but ultimately isn’t very productive because it’s hard to walk away from the table feeling good about yourself when either one of you is covered in poo. And not everyone is going to feel like it’s worth the effort, and some people will make you wish that you’d never even tried, but you have to try anyways because division is bad and in the end we all have a lot that we can learn from each other.

Sometimes it just takes shutting up for a while to stop and hear what the other person has to say…

…even though occasionally it may turn out that the other person is just a crazy racist Donald Trump supporter… 😉

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