Politics

Finding Common Ground Is Easier Than You Think – Jeff Valdivia

How to end the polarization of society

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

Here in North America, we are in a sad state of affairs.

We pit ourselves against each other in a desperate race to prove who is wrong, who is stupid, and who is immoral.

Instead of seeking commonalities, we seek differences. Instead of showing respect, we show contempt. Instead of trying to understand, we try to yell louder than everyone else.

It doesn’t help that we are leaderless. The people who are supposed to be leading us merely pander to their base and lash out at their opposition.

Perhaps this has always been politics. Perhaps this has always been people.

But, aren’t you tired of the same old song and dance? Aren’t you tired of seeing people enter fits of rage rather than show any signs of restraint? Aren’t you tired of all the self-righteous indignation?

I am. I can barely watch the news anymore, let alone read social media. It’s all hysterics, all the time. It’s maddening and it’s only making things worse.

Our societies need to change. But, how?

Like everything, it starts with us. It starts with you and me playing a different game. One that very few other people play.

As they say, trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Let’s stop being insane and try something new.

Back in 2017, I attended the Women’s March in my hometown of Winnipeg, Canada. Thousands of people came out — women and men, alike. It was great to see.

Some impassioned speakers spoke eloquently about the challenges our society has faced, and still faces, when it comes to seeing women and men on an equal playing field.

Then, one of the speakers began to put down men, in general. She said something along the lines of, Come on, men, you can do better. What’s wrong with you?

This rubbed me the wrong way. How counter-productive to scorn the men in the audience. After all, these are the ones who decided to attend, who decided to show their solidarity to the cause.

But also, how hypocritical. This speaker was fighting to be treated fairly and equitably by society. Yet, by calling out men like she did, she was labeling all of us with a broad brush-stroke, which is both unfair and inequitable.

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

When the speeches were over, the march began. The speeches took place in a mall downtown and as we were filing out, someone on a megaphone was asking us to repeat her chants.

I followed along with the chanting until one of the chants was blatantly anti-male. I don’t remember exactly what the wording was, but it was something like, “Men have been putting us down for long enough…”

I almost repeated the words, but I stopped myself. It didn’t feel right, and I don’t think it was right.

When that particular chant ended, a woman to my right looked at me and sneered, “Aren’t you going to say it?”

Now, I am a white, middle-class man. Besides my father being from South America, I am about as far removed from being the object of bigotry as one can get.

I felt a shadow of it then.

So, I left. I felt uncomfortable being a part of something that labeled large segments of the population unfavorably. That, to me, was the opposite of why we were there. That, to me, was the very problem we were gathered against.

I think all of us deserve equal and inalienable rights. No one gets to pick and choose when they hold true. They always hold true.

Hate makes us forget this.

Unfortunately, hate is the cheapest and easiest way of getting people to rally behind an idea. We are easily manipulated by anger and hate, and we are motivated to act when under the sway of these emotions. But, they won’t solve the problems we face today.

Hate will only tear us apart.

How could hate ever bring us together? Hate makes us not want to be unified. Hate makes us want to see our opposition crushed, destroyed, annihilated. Hate makes us want to see our opponents suffer, like we have.

Hate only has the power to divide us, as it surely did at the Women’s March for more than just me.

So, the next time you find yourself hating, remind yourself of this. Hatred is an indulgence we can no longer afford. It’s making things worse and not solving anything. And each of us is to blame.

In Canada, we have a federal election coming up in October 2019. The leader of the Conservative party is against abortion, although he has promised not to challenge that law if he is elected Prime Minister.

No doubt, this issue elicits a complex set of emotions. But, this is why it also makes for a useful example.

When people have an opinion on abortion, don’t we label them as either “pro-life” or “pro-choice”, as if there are only two possible perspectives on this issue?

Why do we do this?

To create an us-versus-them mentality. The people on your team are your allies. The people on the other team are your enemies.

This is the strategy that natural selection has ingrained into our brains. It’s helped us to cooperate and survive in small groups, but today this strategy backfires and creates the divisiveness we see across our societies in North America.

Aren’t you tired of this? Aren’t you tired of flinging the same, tired arguments at your opposition over and over, and wondering why they aren’t changing their minds?

I am. And I’m particularly tired of the self-righteous indignation spewed in both directions.

Let’s start with “pro-life.” First, what a ridiculous tagline. If you’re not “pro-life”, then what are you, “pro-death”? Though implicit, that is the take-away message from this slogan — if you’re not with us, you support killing people.

And, what about “pro-choice”? Again, a ridiculous tagline. If you’re not “pro-choice”, then what are you, “pro-servitude”? “Pro-slavery”? Again, though implicit, that is the take-away message from this slogan — if you’re not with us, you support servitude and slavery.

By labeling our opposition in this way, we make it easy to feel hatred toward them. It’s easy to hate people who want to kill innocent humans. It’s easy to hate people who want to dictate what we do with our bodies.

Stop labeling people. This is one issue with many important perspectives. It’s not that straight-forward. If you can’t see where the other side is coming from, you’re not trying hard enough.

Some people have serious concerns about the ethical implications of ending lives.

Some people have serious concerns about society controlling what women, and people in general, do with their bodies.

Both these concerns warrant intelligent and comprehensive discussion. Yet, no useful discussion is possible while both sides are screaming at each other.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.

Are we so certain of ourselves that we think we have nothing to learn from the people we disagree with?

Are we so insecure in our opinions that we can’t curiously ask other people for theirs?

Are we so attached to our “team” that we aren’t willing to give any effort toward understanding the other side?

These are questions we each need to ask ourselves because without real dialogue nothing will ever change.

And change begins with each of us.

If we can look for commonalities among people rather than differences, if we can show people respect rather than contempt, and if we can listen rather than try to yell the loudest, we will create a better world. A world where everyone is heard, where true dialogue occurs, and where paths are forged that are as of yet unseen because no one will give an inch, because no one will listen.

If one by one we can bring some sanity and compassion back into our conversations, we will be the example for others to follow. Yes, it will take time, but this is how we change people’s minds. This is how we change the way people communicate. This is how we build bridges.

I promise to do my best. Will you join me?


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