Yesterday I had the most enlightened, dynamic conversation about our country with my shared ride driver – a 28 year old Russian immigrant. In 30 minutes, I got quite a history lesson from his personal experiences. No subject was left uncovered — immigration, gun control, drugs, politics, family and personal conflicts. It was obvious he had much on his mind and in his heart. Little did he know, but he gave me a fresh perspective on many things that were heavy on my mind about our country’s current environment.
I am always surprised by the nuggets of wisdom I get from chatting with others when I travel. Regardless of age, race, nationality or religion, conversations often flow easily especially if we connect with each other by some common thread. Could be grandchildren, travel adventures, current events or a book they are reading. Many times I find that I am challenged in a positive way to broaden my perspective by seeing things through another’s eyes.
As I said goodbye to my Russian driver yesterday, I reflected on this simple concept:
If we spent more time on finding our common ground, we’d most likely find the willingness to work together to solve our shared complex problems.
When we label, we are not helping — we simply create an “us vs. them” environment.
When we blame, we deflect responsibility for finding solutions.
When we bristle at things we disagree with, we close the door on learning from another perspective. Often the solutions to many problems lie in that space where things are really uncomfortable. Not insurmountable, simply uncomfortable. Get curious, ask questions, have civil and constructive conversations.
I have friends whose political views are quite different from my own. Yet our core values about family, personal integrity and making positive contributions to others is in full alignment. This collective group of friends have all experienced adversities in life where we depended on each other for support, encouragement, help. We did not let our political or party differences create a roadblock in our personal relationships.
Thanks to social media, especially Twitter, we are caught in an eddy of reactivity while being pelted with a hailstorm of opinions from news media and followers. We can barely catch our breath yet alone take time to process major events for ourselves.
Often the vulgar language, the name calling, and offensive vitriol is what catches our attention first — and what we immediately react to — missing completely the main issue that needs a resolution. We have examples of this poor behavior from both parties and celebrities.
It is a sad reflection on those who lose sight of their personal integrity by allowing their highly charged emotions to take control — spewing remarks they most surely must later regret. It is even sadder to think that many of these high profile people have a unique platform to present problems in an honest, intelligent way — and to solicit constructive conversations to find solutions.
Instead, that thunderstorm of contagious heated emotions clouds the core issues we must collectively address. We need to find our way back to civil discourse, courtesy and calm.
When parts of our country are hit with natural disasters (hurricanes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions), we seem to find our way back to humanity. Communities unite to help each other regardless of political party, race, status, religion. We band together to provide basic needs for survival and then for rebuilding. Help pours in from everywhere such as volunteers, fund raisers, even other countries offering aid.
Many of us are currently feeling heart-heavy, news weary and isolated from others because of labels. Each day we are given opportunities to get out of our comfort zone, to get curious and ask more questions especially of those with whom we disagree.
Perhaps if we treat our country’s complex issues as our collective problem and not problems created by party, we can stop the us vs. them game that feels like tug of war. We are all in this together.