Perhaps you’ve noticed, we are living amidst one of the most contentious and polarizing periods in American history.
Hatefulness between people of differing opinions has become so extreme that, unless we think alike, we can’t stand each other anymore.
We used to make friends with those who had the same interests as us, like hiking, horses, sports or hobbies.
Now, we tend to make friends with people who have the same political views.
We’re no longer seeing the full complexity of people with whom we disagree.
Instead, we’re sorting ourselves by ideology in bunkers. It’s fracturing long-term friendships, tearing apart families, and it’s making us miserable.
So why do we do it?
It’s important to note that political division, in and of itself, is not new.
It has plagued society for centuries.
That’s why political conversation used to be a taboo subject.
What is new is that we now see our differences as ones of basic morality, core values and character.
The significance of this shift cannot be overlooked.
Social media, with its encouragement of short, snappy, judgmental statements, isn’t helping.
We have replaced thoughtful and nuanced consideration with bold, attention-getting assertions that earn the most retweets and likes. And it’s feeding our egos in unhealthy ways.
This notion of “my idea is better and more correct than yours because it is” gets us nowhere, says world-renowned researcher, author and speaker Brené Brown.
What we need to focus on instead, she says, is our sense of belonging.
Without belonging to a group, we tend to feel lonely and disconnected.
But in the past 20 years or so — for whatever reason — we have sorted ourselves into factions of those who have the same belief system as ourselves.
It’s gotten to the point where we have very little interest in people who don’t believe like us.
In the last couple of years, we have taken it to a shocking extreme: “I don’t particularly know you, but I’m glad you hate those people too.”
This binding commonality of distrust and hatred directed toward another group is exactly what is driving us apart today.
“We are neurobiologically wired to take care of each other,” Brown reminds us.
“But, when we use hateful language to prove that we are right, and the other side is wrong, we begin the process of dehumanizing them. And once we dehumanize people, we have permission to say or do anything we want to them.”
How do we solve this massive problem?
It begins with listening.
It begins by having conversations with people from the other side of the divide and being open to the possibility that we might all grow and learn from one another.
A little more listening to understand, a little less trying to convince and a lot more intellectual humility would do everyone a world of good.
As people of faith, we often say, “Peace be with you” to each other.
We do not say “Peace be with you if you agree with me.”
This is because we affirm that, deep down, we are all one human family.
We are more — much more — than our opinions.
Love is at the center of our faith, and love is what will bring us back together.
So, the next time we go toe to toe with someone whose opinion sets us off, let us remember to pause, take a breath, set our egos aside and ask ourselves: What is love asking me to do right now?
And then listen.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a minister at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. Her email is [email protected]