In Mark 3:25 Jesus says “If a house is divided it cannot stand”. I think we are that point in our nation. The majority of our nation spoke this week and if our nation is to stand then we have to come together now. I was not part of this majority and I have spent the last few days reading and trying to understand how this happened. How could good people; good people who call themselves Christian, validate a man who spouts profanity and encourages hate? How could people who love our nation and support the Constitution, demand that we turn our backs on people who come to our borders asking for sanctuary? Or deny the freedom to worship in different ways? This doesn’t happen without great anger and fear and a perceived loss of honor.
The book I read while reflecting on this election was “Strangers in Their Own Land” by Arlie Russell Hochschild. In her book Hochschild attempted to understand the great divide in our nation by focusing on the loss of environment and culture in the Deep South. I think, especially in light of the division between the votes of rural and urban America, that the losses mourned in the South extend across our nation. We can only repair this rift by trying to understand one another and by looking for a balance of needs.
We struggle with profound conflicts. Industry pays our bills while destroying our environment. Corporations provide jobs while crowding out the small businessman, including farms. We need jobs so we can’t condemn Big Business, but we need thriving small businesses as well as large corporations. How do we prevent Walmart from crowding out Mom’s General Store? There isn’t enough money in the world to deny a future to our children so we must protect our environment, but we need to pay the bills. How can we turn a blind eye on industrial pollution? But how can we stop it without losing jobs?
There is a word that has fallen out of style in the last few years. Compromise. Compromise can only be achieved through talk, and listening, and respecting one another.
Respect is a word that gets used a lot, but doesn’t seem to be applied uniformly. Without a mutual respect, compromise is nearly impossible.
So where should we begin? I hold Social Media largely responsible for the tragic polarization of our society. The next time you see a meme that presents a public figure in an unflattering photograph with a cynical caption, ask yourself who created the meme. Obviously it was created to influence opinion. Who would be motivated to influence opinion? I suggest that such posts are created by professionals, hired to stir up emotions. Almost 200 years ago Statesman Horace Mann warned that all it takes for a despot to control a population is to guide it by emotion. If reason takes hold, the despot loses his influence. So instead of simply reacting, even if the post supports something that appeals to the way you “feel” about an issue, take the time to check the accuracy of the quote. Ask yourself, before sharing a post that calls someone “a special kind of stupid”; is it going to accomplish anything more than alienating a friend? Or a stranger?
What about those Facebook arguments? How many times has an argument with a stranger accomplished anything? You might feel better for a few minutes- you sure showed them! But what does hurling insults across cyberspace accomplish, other than widening the divide?
Let’s think about news posts from “The Blaze” or “Huffington Post”, to name a few. The digital age has increased our access to information from a few television channels and one or two newspapers to hundreds- many that show tremendous bias. If we really want to mend our tattered and torn nation we have to think critically. That means we need to check the validity of what we read. Before you react to a news post in Social Media, do a quick search for the original source. Was a quote taken out of context? What really happened? It’s easy to find information that supports what you already want to believe, but if you go back to the “horse’s mouth” you may find that what actually happened was not as offensive as it was presented. By finding the speech, or the interview, and reading for yourself, you get to make your own decision about what happened. No one is telling you what to believe. You are deciding for yourself.
Twitter? A political coward tweets out a short, cynical comment and calls it done. In marriage counseling a “hit and run tactic” is when a spouse complains, or accuses, and then allows no time for any attempt at conflict resolution. It seems to me that a political tweet is simply a political hit and run. How does such a tactic accomplish anything except to stir up emotions? It is the tool of the despot. Stop it in its tracks by simply not retweeting.
Politics is not a game. As long as this great divide continues, we are all losers.
How do we work out our differences? The people in Hochschild’s study resented and mistrusted government regulation, yet without some government oversight industry pollutes, species get over-hunted, and people are exposed to dangerous toxins. But when regulators step in and stop production at a factory, or limit hunting, jobs and hereditary lifestyles are threatened. Without finding common ground- through conversation, respect and compromise the differences will remain unresolved.
Taxes? Affirmative action? The Welfare system? Hochschild describes a line in which everyone stands while trying to improve their life. I think we can all understand resenting a line cutter. In her analogy, a line cutter is a person who takes unfair advantage of loopholes in these systems. Let’s look at taxes. The Left resents the upper 1% avoiding taxes. The Right says any tax increase is inexcusable. We all agree that everyone should pay their fair share. Conversation again, and compromise will save us. The House of Representatives needs to get off their partisan butts and talk across the aisles. President Elect Trump has a tax plan that economists say will dramatically raise the national debt. He can propose, but the House of Representatives initiates changes in tax laws. Will we allow them to play politics with our money? Or should we demand that House committees work with a panel of experts composed of both liberal and conservative economists to attempt to finally simplify our tax codes and apply them fairly across our population?
I could ramble on case by case but in the end, nothing will change regardless of who is in the White House, until We the People speak to each other again and until we respect each other. In an age where misinformation is everywhere, we must use our brains, not our emotions, before we react to anything. That’s hard. It takes discipline, and maybe prayer.
So I am asking you- when it comes to our nation, lay aside emotion. Refuse to spread lies and hate. Read the Constitution before you rail against another group and ask yourself if you are supporting or harming your country.