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Resist the divide

By Jeanene Louden. Reprinted from The Huffington Post.

The president elect is calling for American unity as a way forward. Those that did not support him are calling for unity as a way forward. What do we mean by “unity”? What will it take for us to actually be “one nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”?

If the answer from the little voice inside your head started with the word “they”, there is hope. When you see yourself on a “side”, you can see what the other side needs to do to bridge the divide. Then, you just need to ask yourself two questions: first, would you recognize it if “they” made that change, and second, are you willing to do the same?

Before you answer, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

I remember when Vietnam veterans returned home to jeers and spitting. I was outraged. Not because I supported the war, but because I respected veterans. Most of us “on the other side of the war” did not blame soldiers and sailors for this political conflict. We did not spit or jeer. Yet, the few (the spitters) were made the face of the many. 

Jump back to today. We see stories about “conservatives” bullying minorities or “progressives” insulting the president elect. I assert that now, just as back in the 70’s, this overgeneralization about conservatives and progressives (even the names given the ‘sides’) is a strategy to erase ‘respect’ and her sister, ‘benefit of the doubt’ from our social fabric. 

Somewhere between then and now the term “socially acceptable”, a cultural statement, morphed into “politically correct”, a partisan insult. I believe respect and benefit of the doubt are casualties of that spin-doctor inspired shift. 

Why? When we respect American sub-cultures unlike our own, when we give each other the benefit of the doubt, we are not susceptible to the media (and social media) drone of divisiveness that is being used to keep us apart. 

I believe the drone-to-divide is strategic and calculated. Together we really are more than the sum of our parts, the stuff ‘American Ingenuity” is made of, and someone out there doesn’t want that uncontrollable synergy. For some reason, unity is a threat to the droners, and anger at every other American sub-culture is a good thing. I don’t have to know who they are to see that this is happening. Truth be told, bullies are bullies and insulters are insulters. These are the actions of individuals. Not of groups. Not “others”.

A quick example. People I know and trust have been called names (like homophobe and misogynist) because they supported the president elect, even though their lives do not demonstrate these terrible charges. I am outraged for them. They have mybenefit of the doubt, both that this is happening and that the charges are false. 

And, I am outraged for myself when I am broad-brush-accused of having done this, or condoned this, the result being that my outrage about this bad behavior is dismissed just because I did not support the president elect. 

The counterpoint. My motto is “Everybody counts or nobody counts.” I stole it from Harry Bosch (a Connelly character). I do not think I am unique in my thinking. Many Americans see the difference between overgeneralized accusations and reality.

In short, when everybody counts, we are free to acknowledge each other’s pain. We can respect how that pain informs our interpretation of our reality. We can pursue our own self interests without resisting (or denigrating) the self interests of others. We might even see how those self interests overlap. 

Imagine if people were able to read about Black Lives Matter and not feel defensive or marginalized for not being black. Would it be easier to hear the concerns being expressed if our minds were not so busy creating the rebuttal to the validity of the movement so as to not feel “less important”?

The fact that we see so much one-upmanship about the pain and suffering that justifies why ‘this group matters’ or ‘that group matters’ demonstrates that we have been conditioned to believe that caring for what happens inside our personal circle (our sub-culture) and what happens outside our personal circles are somehow mutually exclusive.

The disconnect is the notion that more than one culture cannot exist in the same country, that to admit the presence of “others” is detrimental to our own (sub)culture, and that respecting others is dangerous. Danger makes fear. Fear makes defensiveness. Defensiveness creates walls. And the strategy to prevent unity has won. 

If you can believe that the concerns of all Americans may not be the same, but all are important, then you can learn to give others (outside your social circle) the benefit of the doubt again. Our selective outrage can become our collective outrage. We can work for a country that works for us all. That would truly make America great.

Jeanene Louden is Vice President of Coffee Party USA 
Coffee Party USA envisions a nation of diverse communities sharing a culture of informed public engagement where our sacred right to vote is the only currency of our representative democracy.