Small Steps Towards Uniting Our Divided Society

We live in a divided society where arbitrary divisions between the left and the right have become progressively wider. When did we start labelling everyone? And, how do we step back from the edge of this divide towards some civility and humanity? It is time we looked deep into the divisions in our society, and time to consider where this is all heading, and most importantly, how to stop it. 

Most of us have grown up with the knowledge that we have inalienable rights to certain things; what we believe in, how we vote, what we think and what we say. We are the lucky ones in this world to have these rights protected by our laws. But, somewhere along the way, we have grown intolerant of people who disagree with our point of view. We think our right to vote, gives us the right to judge someone who votes differently. We presume our right to choose what to believe in gives us the right to condemn someone for believing in something different. We conclude our right to freedom of speech, allows us to trash and put down someone exercising their right. Especially if they say something we disagree with. Let us be clear, having rights does not entitle us to judge others for exercising their rights. 

Our rush to judgement has let a divide open up right through the middle of our society. On each side stand those with opposing ideas on how the world works. We have labeled these two sides the Left and the Right. And, we face each other over this chasm, throwing hate and inflammatory slogans back and forth across the divide. Each side accuses the other of being prejudiced and having a myopic view of the world. We label each other with terms that should have stayed in the trashcans of history; Nazis, communists, alt-right, white nationalists… We fling these cruel and oppressive labels around like confetti, covering everything and making a huge mess.

This divide has left many feeling the need to choose a side. The endless rhetorical hatred we see daily in our news feeds and on social media only entrenches each side further and improves nothing. We have allowed tensions to be stoked in all sectors of society. As more people are encouraged to choose a side, emotions begin to run hotter than logic. After-all, fighting about our political views feels personal and deeply connected to our values. The fight becomes a battle over perceived right and wrong, good and evil, black and white. The battle ignites online fires of hate that only add to the polarization. It is time to put out these fires, back down from the fight and find a way to cross the abyss that divides our society. 

While we don’t pretend to have the ultimate answer for putting out these fires and mending the divisions, we do have some ideas for small steps in the right direction. 

Get out of your bubble

We are fed a diet of media that is based on our likes, viewing habits and algorithms. What we see and read helps reinforce our views one way or another. In this world of over-information sharing, many individuals are less informed or misinformed. Being willing to read an article from a source you wouldn’t normally visit is a good step towards seeing another point of view. 

Get informed

Getting news sources from social media can mean it is not always the full truth. It is scary to note social media is the main form of news for many people. Inaccurate pages often get the largest attention and shares. Find good sources of information and dig deeper into current events by finding out more about the situation beyond the inflammatory headlines.

Get into a conversation 

Start talking with someone who has a vastly different point of view to you, someone with different moral values or beliefs. Respectful, thoughtful and honest dialogue around controversial topics is the best way forward to mend the divides that keep us apart. 

Listen with understanding 

With openness and kindness, listen to someone with a different point of view and get to understand the things that they place value on. Understand that opinions are formed by the set of values we hold as the most important. While one person will hold liberty, free speech and human rights as their most important values, another person may consider patriotism, loyalty and hard work to be their defining values. 

Ask questions rather than arguing

In an argument, both sides become further entrenched in their own positions. We convince ourselves that our argument is based on logic. But actually, most arguments are based on emotion. Asking someone why they believe that idea is more productive than attacking their point of view. 

See people as people

Our best hope to end this divide is to see the ‘other side’ as real people with their own fears, goals and beliefs. Stop seeing them as a caricature of the liberal left or radical right. They are all human beings. No one is going out of their way to be evil. 

Remember social media lacks context

Our social media feeds provide short, angry bursts of reaction to an event or topic. In a rush to respond we often miss the context. When we forget to consider the context of a retweet or share, we miss the chance to understand a different point of view. We instead add even more fuel to the fire. 

While we may not have started the fire, our hope is that these small steps can unite us in the intention to put it out. After all, it will take a united effort to begin closing the divides that separate us. 

Despite the many issues that still separate us, what unites us is far greater than what divides us

Pope Francis