“The nation is not divided. You go out there and take a look and talk to people; you have fringes on both ends. But it’s not nearly as divided as we make it out to be, and we have to bring it together.” -President Joe Biden
It has been a challenging couple of years to write about “not being a divided nation” because there was so much evidence that I was either crazy or insensitive to the world’s realities. I assure you that I questioned myself so often, especially being socially isolated due to the pandemic, seeing civil unrest grow over racial inequality, and finally witnessing an insurrection at the Capitol this past month. The news that we witness each day definitely shows proof of division. Yet, I kept coming back to the conversations I have had over the years, especially during my political campaign where people from all walks and beliefs shared their dreams and hopes of a better world for themselves and their communities.
Last night I heard something I wasn’t expecting. During a televised national town hall, a participant questioned President Biden about how we can deal with our divided nation. Without hesitation, he said that we have to stop looking at our country as divided. “The nation is not divided. You go out there and take a look and talk to people; you have fringes on both ends. But it’s not nearly as divided as we make it out to be, and we have to bring it together.” In that instant, as I heard those words, I jumped up and said, “YES!! Absolutely right on!”
It was like getting a hefty dose of affirmation, and it is the first time I have heard it spoken by any of our leaders. What he articulated is big news because it has the possibility to open the conversation on a national level and change the narrative we continue to tell. Division and belief in separation are myths that cause us to act against one another, but if we can rekindle the hope that we are all working together on our part, we can create the change that is needed. America has done this again and again. I am so grateful that he shared this insight.
We have to keep that dialogue alive by reaching out to each other and talking from our experience. Regardless of party affiliation, these small conversations around the table have always shaped our national discourse. Over history, having a debate over drinks or dinner is how issues got hammered out. It wasn’t by getting the most likes on your tweets. We have been doing this from the very beginning, and our challenge is to find ways back to each other.
One question I have wondered is, do we really understand what a democracy is? Do we know the basic tenets of our government? Many of the things said by politicians these past few weeks make me wonder. Perhaps getting more acquainted with the process will reveal that our government doesn’t just rely on our leaders, but it counts on every one of us doing our part and becoming educated on the various sides of the issues. Unfortunately, it seems like online media, network talk shows, and conspiracies overrun facts. Propaganda is not new–there have always been outlandish statements floating into our discourse. What I believe has changed so much is how we air out these ideas and who we choose as authorities of information. As we expand and debate, we need all the voices to join in and not let any one voice bully or speak to silence others. That is why it is not only important to vote but to voice your ideas and be aware of their impact. Just think about any time in America when things were out of balance, we needed people of courage and integrity to right the ship and remind us of our collective well-being.
Underneath it all, for our democracy to work, we have to continue to develop a strong sense of principles or, as I term them, Civil Graces to guide us in navigating a way forward. These timeless ideals remind us of what Abraham Lincoln phrased as “the better angels of our nature.” They reconnect us in a shared sense of what can unite us and are more powerful than what tries to divide us. I believe we are starting to move in that direction, and those who try to continue inciting violence may be surprised when they meet a renewed sense of purpose in our nation. Only we can decide if that is true. Our job is to do the work to make this change happen within ourselves and to encourage it in others. Take time to write, read, and speak about our democratic principles. Help dispel the myths you hear with empathy and compassion, for as we have discussed, many people lose their way because of fear. Invite them back by listening to their story, and get to the heart of how they came to see things in a particular way. It can be challenging, but start small and don’t focus on changing minds, but connect as human beings, heart to heart, one conversation at a time.
We have a saying in our house, “you are what you think about all day long.” It is time to foster ideas that bring people together and work for our shared future. When we start to think with a different awareness, the world around us will open doors and reignite our imaginations for the better world that we know is possible. Let’s reconnect with one another and if you need some ideas on how to get started, I got a book that is full of them!
Photo credit: Vince Moro. During my campaign we were at an air balloon festival, and one of the balloon owners needed help bringing the balloon down. Everyone jumped in to help and it created a beautiful image of strangers working together for a common purpose.