I’ve been hearing The Byrds’ song. “Turn, Turn, Turn,” in my head lately. It’s a great song, but it was written and played in 1965, so I can’t explain this phenomenon. But in the way that music subliminally speaks to us, I realized the tune and its words reflected my need to turn the page and begin a season of healing—as a nation.
The last time I wrote about the deep divide in our country, my focus was on how we could constructively explore our differences. It was painful to write and probably painful for many to read, but in some ways, we’ve moved on. We have a new president, and we are clearly marching to a different drum, right?
The problem is that we really haven’t moved on. We still have the animus. We could go back and trace its history, but that would get us into an endless loop of “whataboutism”—the practice of rationalizing one’s behavior based on what someone did to you. Democrats and Republicans could trade barbs as to who, how, and when the parties denied a legitimate presidential win. When a sentence begins with, “What about the time that …” you are proceeding down a fruitless and ill-advised path.
The question then is how do we turn the page? How do we recognize the season of healing? Historians, philosophers, and therapists can all offer some very studied responses, but I reduce our deep divide into three main causes.
The fear factor: The world is scary, the future is unpredictable, and the pace is fast. How are we to cope? To thrive? Anxiety and fear put us in a “mood.” We simply don’t believe that there is nothing to fear but fear itself, which creates the perfect environment for rancor.
Misguided, over-used labels: In my family, on any given day, we have a mix of conservative, independent, and progressive thinkers. But then, who really knows? We are so much more than any labels that reduce us. What I do know is whether the topic is minimum wage, Texas’ blackouts, or immigration policy, our range of views is additive. Labels don’t work unless you are in marketing, where you can sometimes move the pack. When Wendy’s did its “Where’s the beef?” marketing campaign, they put McDonald’s and Burger King on their heels. But for common citizens digesting today’s politics, forget the label and find the beef.
GroupThink: In our desire for harmony, we surround ourselves with people who reinforce a similar set of views. Its benefit, if there is one, is the comfort of living in an echo chamber. The problem is that as our biases harden, we aren’t challenged by competing views. How on-point was Henry David Thoreau who quipped, “Could a greater miracle take place than to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
If we believe that fear, labels, and groupthink are the problems, what are our solutions? Again, my rule of three applies.
First, build a muscle for tolerance. If we can squelch our craving for the constant bombardment of news and social media we know we will agree with and eat some humble pie by not believing we have all the right answers, we might begin to build tolerance. We might lose our self-righteousness, even if its genesis lies in wanting to do good. Good is complicated. My suggestion? Count to five before responding for better listening and less counter-punching.
Next, identify our common endpoints. Most of our disagreements are less about the desired outcome and more about how we get there. Goals such as economic opportunity for all, and better systems of healthcare, education, and housing are not owned by one party. It’s our approaches that vary most. Can we start by acknowledging common endpoints to create a basis of faith?
Finally, are you a doomer or a bloomer? Our attitude makes us. The term “self-fulfilling prophecy” exists for a reason. We can be as noble or as base as we choose to be. We can reinforce hope, or we can be Chicken Little, whose sky is always falling.
Those words—tolerance, common ground, positive outlook—are just words, and we know that the doing is hard. But ask yourself, what choice do you have?
The Byrds had it right. To everything, there is a season. And as the song goes, I believe we are in a time, “To cast away stones. A time to gather stones together.”
“Together” sounds bloomin’ right to me.