How to Heal Our Nation’s Political Divide
Three years ago I was about to sit down for a dinner party in Newport, Rhode Island when a friend of mine ran up to me and strongly suggested that I move my seat. When I asked him why he just said to trust him and that I’d thank him later.
I sat down at my seat anyway and quickly learned why my friend gave me that advice. The woman I was sitting next to was good friends with the Clintons and her husband worked in politics for years. I had been working in political news for a right-leaning network and because of my affiliation, I continuously found myself in political conversations. Because we were at a party, my friend immediately assumed I wouldn’t get along with my dinner partner and, therefore, should avoid a conversation at all costs.
I can’t help but think about that situation as I look at the general sentiment in the country right now. Emotions are running high, people are gathering together to show their support for their political causes in record numbers, and there is a general assumption that because you have a certain point of view, you should avoid the other side because there is no way you will find common ground.
If you look at social media or turn on the news, this assumption is further engrained into your brain, that there is no room for conversation, because all you can hear is noise. Every time I open Twitter, I wish I hadn’t. But despite the salacious attacks and the foreboding feeling that the world is ending, there is hope for healing, because it comes from you.
It’s easier to stay within an echo chamber. It’s safe, and it’s good for the ego. If you surround yourself with people who think just like you, you never have to refine your own thoughts or expand your point of view. You never have to feel like you’re on the defensive, and no one is there to poke holes in your argument. You can feel like you’re part of a group and that you’re always right. It’s a great feeling to have. But as our echo chambers get smaller, we become increasingly afraid to step out of it. Therefore, we assume the stance that any person who does not have the exact point of view as we do is fundamentally wrong, so a conversation with them is pointless.
This way of thinking is what’s eroding the political culture in our country.
But if you can step out of your comfort zone, and if you can be confident in your own beliefs, you might find that there is a point to the conversation you are too afraid to have. You might find that the perceived enemy wants the same things as you do: they want a better life for themselves and their family, they want opportunity, they want security. As humans, we want similar things, but we have different ideologies on how we get them. That is our common ground, and just because someone has a different opinion than you on how to get there, the underlying reasons remain the same. And the beauty of our democracy is that we are stronger because of our difference of opinions. We are able to be more creative and more innovative when we take opposing views and mix them together to find the best path forward.
The hope for this tumultuous time is among the American people because this change happens on an individual basis that will then affect the collective as a whole. 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.
While our leaders need to do this, we, too, ought to step up. We need to bring civility back to our own political discourse and set the tone for our elected officials to follow, especially since they seem too afraid to make the adjustment themselves.
The power of our democracy will always rest with us, and we are the ones who demand change. So go out there and continue to stand up for what you believe in. Protest, call Congress, show up at town halls; use your voice in every way possible. And don’t be afraid to sit next to someone who thinks differently than you, and assume a conversation is pointless. Change your tone, and we can change the country.
FYI, I actually had a great time at that dinner, and it was one of the best conversations I’d ever had with a stranger. We spoke about our experiences in politics, about what excites us, what frustrates us, and what we hoped we could see change. But the key element of this exchange was that we spoke simply and honestly. I didn’t try to attack her or to change her mind, and she was equally as respectful. We sat and listened to one another in a non-judgmental way. We listened to understand and to appreciate one another’s different point of view.
Claire Hardwick is a Republican strategist who is using her voice to foster communication, create understanding, and bridge the political divide.
This essay was featured in the June 30th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper is the paper of record for individuals who want to be Architects of Change, lead meaningful lives and Move Humanity Forward. To get inspiring and informative content like this essay delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.