Now in the year 2044, I look back at an America that had not yet grown beyond most of our past political division and modern tribalism. How did we move on from such divisiveness?
We continued to value different opinions, perceptions and beliefs, but our past divide consumed too much focus and energy. It created anxiety, anger and depression. It stressed people out. Our political and social divide also made it harder to tackle our challenges.
We learned to have open conversations about race, gender and immigration, as well as our social fabric, those things that unify us as Americans, as well as our collective and individual human experience. We learned to talk openly and freely about our own social behaviors, hypocrisies and narcissism. We realized that in dealing with increased rates of suicide and self-harm, a need for criminal and social justice, improvements in health and healthcare, we had to work together across race, gender and ideology. We also realized that many of our problems were not political. They were social, spiritual and cultural, and government offered only part of the solution to solving them.
When we divided into our like-minded communities or we didn’t speak to important family members with a different worldview, it was still difficult to ignore and remove ourselves from the negative emotions and divisiveness. Even if we took a break from our president's tweets or the "fake news," in many liberal communities, it seemed impossible not to talk about our political and social anxieties, and our aversion to Trump. In parts of conservative America, folks resented liberals and those who called them bigots, racists, homophobes or sexist. They saw a sustained liberal attack on traditional values and the tearing of the social fabric that had helped to keep families and our nation more unified and strong. Many other Americans checked out of our political process and didn’t participate or vote.
Looking back there were some who believed that continuing the current state of divisiveness was admirable and important. They believed that the stakes were too high, or it was a waste of time trying to find common ground with Trump voters and "evil" Republicans. Many others believed that it was futile to try and understand the "idiocy" and "hypocrisy" of liberals. A smaller group of Americans believed that destroying the "tyrannical” patriarchy was the first step in solving our social and political problems. Others thought that our society was better off when women played their traditional roles as mothers and homemakers and they blamed feminism for many of our social ills. Though understandable, these views were often divisive, illiberal, and unhelpful. Cultivating compassion-- a genuine desire to understand and appreciate those with different worldviews-- and finding common ground, better served our nation, our communities, families and us as individuals. Compassion and a genuine collective effort created a more just, open and freer society that respected a diversity of beliefs and points of view.
With time and effort we learned to promote viewpoint diversity and a larger circle of empathy. Many Americans had, and still have, strong and passionate views on healthcare, immigration, climate change, guns, gender and race, but few people were open to others telling them that they're ignorant or stupid for having different views. We figured out how to give others an opening, in part because most people were still willing to listen and make an effort at understanding those who saw the world differently than they did. Even if certain views made some people feel uncomfortable, it was a diversity of opinions and points of view, and the freedom to express them that made our society stronger and healthier. In this transformative process it was important to understand that those who were more comfortable adapting to change slowly tended to value the wisdom and insights of tradition and religion. Many other people valued pluralism and novelty. It became obvious that all Americans value equality and fairness, and the United States of America has always been a grand experiment of racial and cultural diversity.
The demonization of others and the creation of parallel universes (our newsfeeds) were highly profitable for traditional and social media, but they hurt our society. We slowly began to question groupthink and to seek out and learn from others outside of our political and social bubbles, even if their point of view seemed wrong or uninformed. We made it a practice to assume that other people knew something that we didn’t. Putting aside the divisions that politicians, social media and news outlets helped create, we realized that most Americans believe that it's better to govern and confront problems through compromise and consensus, finding common ground, than following party lines and tribal loyalties. Today we all know that prejudice, racism and sexism have no helpful place in our society.
People have written books about America’s transformation, and I am not an expert in any of the reasons for it. I do know that this transformation was not about changing strongly held beliefs. These are cultural and personal. With time we all grew to understand that no one has a monopoly on truth, and as Shakespeare once wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking it makes it so.” No one is immune to cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. It was not easy to understand and respect points of view and values that were different than ours, but we began to see our country more objectively. We used reason, our intellect, and we made it a practice to avoid the trap of believing certain things to be true because we hoped they were true. We also realized that facts or statistics that challenge or contradict a person's strongly held beliefs rarely change those beliefs.
Sometimes we felt that our safety or identity was challenged when we opened ourselves to other beliefs and points of view, but it was essential that we felt this discomfort in order to grow and collectively create a better world around us. The emotional, political and spiritual health of our country depended on it, as well as our relationships with family, friends and community.