You’re not alone if you’ve decided to stop watching the news every day because the constant negativity makes you feel stressed, anxious or irritable. You’re also not alone if you’ve lost old friends or close contact with some relatives because of political differences. Everyone I know has been experiencing those feelings and those losses for the first time in their lives, but few of us know how to resolve the problems.
One of the reasons that makes a solution so difficult is that there are so many issues that put us on one side or the other: racism, guns, abortion, immigration, campaign reform, and more. That there are serious divisions over mask wearing and vaccinations during a pandemic that’s already killed more than 600,000 Americans proves how deeply divided we are.
I’ve experienced it with long-time friends and a cousin my age who has been like a brother to me. One of those friends has refused to talk about anything and has cut off all correspondence. The other friend and I avoid all talk of politics and talk about family, what we’ve been doing. My cousin and I usually do the same, but sometimes exchange silly labels. For instance, he’ll call me a “crazy Commie Pinko” and I’ll call him a “radical right-winger” before we admit we still love one another and go on to laugh and talk about other things.
That’s a lot easier to do when you have a lifetime, or several years, to get to know someone. You know they’re good people and that disagreements over politics are minor compared to the value and richness of your relationships. But, what if you don’t have those years of closeness? Is it possible to end, or at least mend, the divisions Americans have been experiencing lately?
An internet search for “How to heal our divisions” brings up hundreds of sources. One of the most helpful I found was in the Feb. 17, issue of Psychology Today, “How We Heal: A Guide for Families and the Nation” Some of the solutions it suggests are to listen to and validate each other’s point of view, use empathy and respect, keep conversations civilized, assume responsibility, apologize, collaborate on solutions, make reparations and forgive.
Those are tall orders when anger and deep frustration are present, but people have used some or all of those methods and found they work. One of them is Claire Hardwick, a Republican strategist who learned it at a friend’s house after sitting next to someone with totally different political views. She wrote about it on mariashriver.com and discussed how easy it is to be trapped in a bubble with only those who agree with us. She said, “This way of thinking is what’s eroding the political culture in our country. … If each of us can reach out and have a conversation with someone they fundamentally disagree with, they might find that their own thoughts become more clear, they become more confident in their own beliefs, and they might also learn something new. If you realize your neighbor wants the same things as you, you might not feel as much of a reason to resent, and you might feel more inclined to listen to understand.”
I’ve found that to be true when answering emails from those who disagree with what I’ve written in my columns. We often write back and forth and, in many cases, discover we agree on more things than not. And that makes me wonder how and why Americans have been torn so far apart more than at any other time I can remember.
Who benefits from these divisions? Certainly, our long-time enemies like Russia and China do. Their leaders have wanted to divide and weaken us for ages. The media benefits, of course, because as the old saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Left-wing and right-wing media benefit the most and pry us apart at every opportunity so they get a bigger audience and make more money selling commercials and ads. Political parties benefit, or hope to, by inciting hatred for and distrust of the other side. And while all of the above reap rewards, it’s the American people who pay the price.
But sometimes unity appears after the most devastating circumstances. When the condo in Surfside, Florida, collapsed, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Joe Biden worked to bring state and federal resources together for rescue and recovery missions. Both of them praised the other for their quick responses.
We can do the same, one person at a time. It won’t be easy but, if we work to heal the divisions in our beloved United States, the word “united” will once again describe us all.
Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.