Can we all get along? Rodney King spoke these heartfelt words to try to help quell the violence from the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the aquittal of the 4 white police officers who beat him. His words echo in my mind as I see the vitriolic political climate we are in nowadays. I could have sworn that our country and politics couldn’t be more divisive than during George W. Bush’s presidency but, alas, I believe that I’m wrong. We seem to have hit a new low.
I just read a recent poll that indicates the majority of Americans, a whopping 82%, disapprove of the job Congress is doing. The level of approval/disapproval is matching a 38-year low. With all the rancor and finger-pointing, it’s no wonder most people feel like our political system is ineffective. It seems like the majority of politicians’ time and energy (and this applies to our presidential race as well) is spent bashing the other side. As Abraham Lincoln stated (borrowing from Jesus’ statements in the Gospel of Matthew): A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Just to be clear, this is not a Right or Left problem. Both sides are equally guilty and at fault. This is a systems problem and a human problem.
In my view, one of the main contributors to this problem that many of us share (I’m not exempt, ahem) is to view the Other Side as somehow ignorant, unwise, uneducated, hopelessly biased, etc. I read wonderful quote from John Stuart Mill that applies: The worst offense that can be committed by a polemic is to stigmatize those who hold a contrary opinion as bad and immoral men. I’d add “stupid” or “ignorant” to this statement. And, of course, Mill’s sentiments would apply to both men AND women!
How do we fix this political system that many feel is ineffective, dysfunctional, and inherently divisive? I have a few ideas here. I realize that some might view me as presumptious or arrogant for even trying to offer such ideas but hey, I mean well and I’m pretty certain the solution isn’t in trying to prove the Other Side is “wrong.” As my mom used to say, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
Strategy To Get Along Better #1
Instead of trying to view the Other Side as different, try to look at how they are the same as you.
When we practice trying to see how others are similar to us, it can help humanize the Other Side instead of demonizing them and facilitate greater connectedness along with feelings of compassion. I learned this approach in the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness and have found it very useful in my personal life. Some powerful similarities with people on the Other Side come to mind when we try this exercise. Like me, people on the Other Side:
- Want to be happy
- Don’t want to suffer
- Experience the same feelings such as happy, sad, angry, proud, jealous, grief, worry, and exhilaration
- Want good things for our country
- Think they are right