"Only connect! ... Live in fragments no longer." E.M. Forster
I just returned from Cartagena, Colombia. I booked the trip on the heels of the most recent election that left me shaken - shaken from an awareness of just how divided this country is. I couldn't imagine a path toward healing the divide. On the contrary, with the election of Donald Trump, the lines seem more entrenched.
The same divide was being experienced within me. The hope for the trip was that I could step back and gain some perspective on what was happening. Maybe this pause could serve as a springboard for my own healing.
This divisiveness in the country has been happening for decades. But the truth is that we have held passionately different views represented by primarily two parties since the country's inception. What has changed? Our method hasn't changed. We continue to compete in the spirit of one side winning over the other. The game of battle drowns out the complexities of the issues at hand. Maybe we are just now seeing the fundamental limits of an either/or approach to problems, brought to a head by the obscene amounts of money in our political system.
Many people have lost faith in our systems - but especially our political system. It is broken: money matters more than people. Politicians are functioning in a system that, they believe, needs to be perpetuated in order to change it. To generate more money, constituents are told that really bad things will happen if we don't give more money to fight the Wrong View, the other side. This is absurd. And yet we have arrived here.
Our deep and real differences and challenges need every one of us to be part of the solutions. Yet the sense of urgency has translated to providing ammunition for an even further divide. Black vs. White. We must win. The stakes could not be higher.
And, certainly, the environmental stakes are desperately high. Humans' ability to work toward sustainability is in serious question. One thing is certain, though, that if we continue to approach problems as "us vs. them", we will continue to be stuck in the same cycle of suffering.
Two weeks after my return from Cartagena, I feel greater well-being. The problems of the world are still urgent. We can't get along or bridge divides by being quiet regarding our core values. There will be increasingly limited resources for increasingly more people on the planet. We won't solve problems by believing one group has an inherently more deserving seat at any table.
There is a way in which we can speak up for and act in the service our beliefs without shouting down other people. It is up to every single one of us to bridge the divide. We can speak our truth in the spirit of connection. We do this not by pretending to listen only as a place marker for convincing others of our superior view. We do this by breaking down either/or views and by holding a sincere belief that the views of the person across from us matter - even if we don't understand or agree with them.
If we view those who differ from us as part of the problem that we must overcome, then we are solidifying the divide and turning away from real and sustained solutions in a messy world. The place to start is within each of our hearts.
Try this reflection exercise.
Who am I excluding from my circle of compassion?
Who am I blaming for the ills of the world?
Whose story am I telling for them?
How can I begin to talk about change in creative ways?
How can I stay open even when I feel fear and anger?
The words of Martin Luther King Jr. are as truthful and as needed today as the day he spoke them.
"All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality."
Maybe it is because we have actually moved toward greater acceptance of diversity that there is fear and push back. Perhaps we are too embattled to have honest conversations about how every one are adversely impacted by a kind of capitalism that places money and objects above relationships. Maybe we can't see how our dependence on social media has heightened the divide by giving the most aggressive and extreme views a megaphone.
And yet...maybe there is a way out of this, starting with ourselves.
We are at a crossroads: I don't know how long we will be here. To move beyond this juncture does not require good to conquer evil. Rather, it requires reaching out to more people. It requires activism, but not the kind that perpetuates the divide.
For if we as a collective don't change our fundamental paradigm of red vs. blue, of good vs. bad, of right vs. wrong, we all lose.