The polarization of our country reached new lows last month when a Trump supporter was captured on video telling her US Citizen neighbor Estaban Guzman to go back to Mexico because you are rapists. Her evidence was that President Trump had said so, so therefore it must be true. On the left a restaurant in Virginia refused to serve President Trump’s spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders because of the policies she supports. This position was further backed by Representative Maxine Waters who double downed on the act in terms encouraging that behavior with more White House officials. It’s clear that we have reached a point on the left and right where we have regressed into our political, identify and ethnic subgroups, ripping apart our national connective tissue in the process. We have descended into the land of objects to be discarded if you are not from the subgroup you identify with. The Theologian Martin Buber’s “I Thou” understanding of the intrinsic worth of other beings is but a distant memory. This level of fragmentation and polarization is a threat to our very survival as a country and beyond. This is because the problems we face as a nation require all of our ideas and understandings, not just ones we happen to agree with. In fact, no particular party or subgroup has the complete answers on poverty, education, diversity, the environment, the economy, etc. Each group has a partial piece of the truth, and that must be discerned and taken into account. The problems we face require a level of complexity unlike at any other moment in our history. The very fact of this level of complexity requires us to have as many different perspectives as humanly possible on the table to consider and utilize, not just one or two perspectives. Consider human trafficking for example. Human trafficking requires expertise in criminology, law enforcement, the human psyche, business, politics, human services, and health care to name a few. No one discipline, political party, ethnic or identity group has the full answers. Yet, each partially can provide us with a piece that we can cohesively weave together to be as comprehensive as possible on the issue. We can’t do that if we demonize one another. We can’t do that if we can’t break bread together.
To be able to take as many different perspectives into account commands that we learn to listen to one another. Every person must be included, no matter their belief system. In the process we must begin to see the humanity of the other person while attempting to understand their perspective. This requires moral intelligence and perspective taking. It’s very easy for each of us to judge another, but deeper morality demands additional perspective taking beyond our own. It must become clear in our psyches that every single person and perspective has something important to share and express. We must therefore become radically inclusive of all beings identifying their shared humanity in the process. Once we are able to listen with an open mind, we can start to understand the other person’s point of view, no matter how offensive it might be to us.
It should be clear that whether you are on the left or right that there are legitimate issues coming from your perspective that need to be heard and listened to by us all. The outright dismissal of your perspective because of your political party, identity or ethnic group is one of our biggest sins. When we reduce half of Trump supporters to a “basket of deplorables” or when we call democrats treasonous and unamerican just for being democrats we continue our downward spiral into tribes. We must ultimately move in the opposite direction and become cosmopolitan citizens of the nation that take into account all perspectives and points of view. A cosmpolitan citizen has the ability to hear the extreme left and the extreme right, finding their humanity and partial truth in the process. Our shared humanity and the problems that we face demand that we stop this regression on both sides and transcend to the point of view described. After all, will people not be able to eat at the restaurants of folks from a different point of view? A new and insidious form of segregation after the great and just battle to integrate not so long ago? How absurd is that? Will we ridiculously reduce all people who are brown skinned into criminals without a conversation or looking at the facts? It is time we start a movement to honor all beings and their points of view. We must become radically inclusive before we more deeply sow the seeds of our own destruction. The evidence is there that we are falling apart, and we need to turn this around with fierce urgency. Our government is dysfunctional and can’t come together to pass immigration reform for example. Studies show that our trust has decreased in those that come from a different ideological perspective than us We are also becoming a more lonely and isolated people which may very well be partly caused by our polarization and disconnection from each other. Loneliness is such a serious issue that our former Surgeon General put it up with cancer as one of our leading causes of death. Further, Robert Putnam points out that we have less community-based interactions with each other than we used to, which again can be connected to our distrust of others who see things differently than us. All of these facts do not reflect a United country and people.
The deeper answer we must come to is integration. The principle of integration reflects the idea that everyone has a partial piece of the truth. It doesn’t mean all truths are equal either, just that there is some perspective to be discerned that can help us solve the puzzles that we face. It reflects the principle of inclusivity that I have been describing. Our nation is at serious risk. Until we start to recognize our interconnection and the importance of multiple perspectives in solving the crises that we face, we will continue our spiral of fragmentation and disassociation.