A People Divided

I’m a writer by night and a front desk clerk at a hotel by day. This week a couple who frequents the hotel, and with whom I often spar about writing and global perspectives, took a leap of faith and asked me my political bend. I immediately appreciated the boldness of the question and answered with one of my favorite quotes: “If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinion for or against.” This is a quote from a Chinese poem called Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng T’san. We chatted about it for a few more minutes before the couple headed out for the day, but I was left wondering why I felt they were so brave to pose the question.

Politics has always been a divisive subject, forming the basis for someone’s whole outlook on their life and country. I was raised in a very Republican (right-wing, you might say) household in Arizona, and as such my environment included mostly Republican ideals and the general belief that Democrats are wrong. When I came into my my own person, now in Oregon — started at college, joined Phi Theta Kappa, got into a diverse workplace, began researching and writing more provocative content — my horizons began to expand. I began to see that both sides of the aisle had some good, some bad, and some unsubstantial. And this all came towards the end of President Obama’s term in office, on the brink of a political cage match between Democrats and Republicans everywhere. The American people and the world abroad were about to see just how divided the political sphere of the Unites States is.

I’ll be honest, I was conflicted. Voters all across the US, including people like me who were now able to vote for the first time, were being forced to take a stand and choose which corner to stand in. Was it going to be our first female president, a person we knew what to expect from, or the most wild card of wild cards president? There were scandals, lies, overrated news stories, unreported subjects, and conflicting accounts of everything — a usual day in government that was now reaching street level citizens. Everyone was forced to have an opinion. It was take a stand or stay away from people and the internet and the TV. The election came, a winner was declared, and the next morning the dust settled on a country who I felt had forgotten everything we stood for.

When reading that last sentence, a thought inevitably came to your mind. Maybe you thought about diversity, immigrants, religious liberty, or any number of other things. But for me it was respect. No, our country was not founded on respect, but over the past 241 years of being a nation it’s become our foundation. Respect of gender, respect of race, respect of religion, respect of sexual orientation, respect of political affiliations — we thrive as a nation when we respect each other’s beliefs and lifestyles, whether we always agree or not.

The next line of the Hsin Hsin Ming poem I quoted at the beginning of this article says, depending on the translation you read, “To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.” This is what happened during the 2016 election. We started looking at each other as Republicans and Democrats, Trump-supporters and Hillary-supporters, instead of people and human beings. We were, as the poem says, using what we believe to be right as a filter and viewing everything for whether it agreed or not; we diseased our minds. When I woke up the morning after the election, I didn’t feel distraught because of who had won more than because the interpersonal deterioration had only worsened overnight. In one year we’d bred a world where talking about the issues causes more of them instead of builds the road to fixing our problems and disagreements.

Since that fateful day in November, we’ve started to rebuild as a people, but there’s still so much tension. What can we do to fix our discourse? Instead of idolizing our opinions, enter every situation or conversation with a desire to learn, understand, or grow, instead of a desire to be right or convert someone to your ideals. I’ll close with a quote:

“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

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Here’s this week’s writing prompt, and don’t forget you can email your results for a chance to have them published on my blog:

Yesterday was a normal day, but today you woke up looking a bit…different.

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