I’ve never been intimately interested in politics. Never sought out the stories behind the headlines, or familiar with the daily actions of Congress, Senate majority leaders, or policy makers. But for the past four years, I have become an avid couch-side politician, addicted to the divisive political sideshow that has exposed the fragility of our American ideals, shining a light on the challenges we all face with tolerance.
Truth is, we have always been a country of others: generations born of immigrant descent, a melting pot of humanity. And for the better part of my life, most of us have masked our intolerance of others by leading lives of quiet political correctitude. Knowing the right things to say, the acceptable things to do, and the abhorrent lines we shouldn’t cross.
But the divisive and dehumanized rhetoric of the past four years has not only created a more divided and dangerous world, it has shifted the limits of what is acceptable, reframed our definition of tolerance, and blurred the lines between our political and personal values.
And as the politics of the Trump era have legitimized discourse and policies around misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and white supremacy, party lines once aligned with Democrat or Republican, liberalism or conservatism, now reflect more about our identities and values than ever before: Black Lives Matter. Very fine people on both sides. Love is Love. Where We Go One, We Go All.
What were once ‘political’ opinions are now badges that have strained our relationships, precipitated awkward silences, and have drawn inexorable lines between us. We talk less, virtually avoid visits, unfriend offenders, and estrange ourselves from family and friends. The division in our nation, more political and cultural than at any point since the Civil War, begins with the state of cold war in our own homes.
The division in our nation, more political and cultural than at any point since the Civil War, begins with the state of cold war in our own homes.
But really, are we any more divided than we were in 2016? Haven’t we always fallen on one side or the other of controversial issues? And have we not been able to live together and tolerate those differences? We have. But among the many challenging byproducts of the rule of Donald Trump is the return of fear to both the political table and into our everyday lives.
Trump tapped into our vulnerability to fear and invoked its power in concrete and abstract ways. His xenophobic, misogynistic, white supremacist fear-based appeals have forced us to hold more tightly to what we have, and regard what is unfamiliar with caution. It has made us want to be better protected, and has posed questions about our own courage and even power to challenge what we perceive to be an oppressive, unchecked rule of oligarchs. And this almost certainly unconstitutional, unprecedented abuse of executive power has threatened our sense of who we are as a country to the core.
But really, should we be any more fearful of the ‘other’ than we were in 2016? Hasn’t this country always been a blend of diverse cultures and beliefs from all ends of the planet? And have we not been able to live together and tolerate those differences? We have.
Without question, we’ve been shepherded into corners where we are more polarized than we’ve been. But if we remember what unites us, we will rebuild all the stronger. All it takes is a bit of courage to disempower the fears Trump has provoked, a willingness and desire to want for a better world, and the recognition of what we have always known: that we are better together.
So, how do we begin to love the people we’ve grown to hate? Ask yourself these five simple questions, tapping into the person you’ve always been, with an openness to the person you can be.
1. Who have you distanced yourself from? Think of family members or friends that you’ve become alienated from over the past four years based on political allegiances.
2. What are 3 core values you have in common? Recognize 3 core beliefs or ideals that you share (some examples): Love. Family. Friendship. Community. Freedom. Security. Loyalty. Humanity. Truth. Respect. Integrity. Kindness. Compassion. Honesty. Religion. Pride. Happiness. Justice. Peace. Liberty. Dignity. Honor.
3. What once connected the two of you? Think about 3 characteristics you once loved or admired about that person (some examples): Funny. Dependable. Collaborative. Trustworthy. Intelligent. Artistic. Creative. Generous. Adventurous. Patient. Fun-loving. Playful. Chill. Charismatic. Entrepreneurial. Caring. Diligent. Reliable.
4. Can you begin to see their complete story? No one of us is a single story, or the essence of a single belief. We are all multi-layered complex characters informed by our history, our trauma, our experiences. Seeing each other as one story is an incomplete representation of who we are. Let’s dig deeper, reject the single story, and regain each other’s sense of dignity and integrity.
5. How can you better understand each other? Connect with a sense of empathy and compassion. Don’t necessarily try to get someone to think differently, but first understand better why they feel the way they do, what their history is, how it has shaped their current belief system, how does that differ from yours? Why, then, are you entitled to your beliefs and they not to theirs? Stand in someone else’s shoes for a moment. Make room for tolerance and acceptance. There is more room for all of us than we may realize.
If we can find a way back to each other, learn how to better listen to each other, see each other, the day may come, where we can find light in this ‘never-ending shade.’