We live in a time beset by political polarization.
Many of us are finding it difficult to have civil conversations within our own families. Social media, which should be a place we share things that are meaningful, is often toxic. And in our local political assemblies, the dialog is angry, and there seems to be no interest in finding common purpose.
Polarization stresses our personal lives and political fabric to the point that some believe we are on our way to a new civil war.
This extreme is not easily dismissed because even issues on which we should be able to agree have become politicized.
A society that isn’t polarized readily accepts that education is good; that science is our most trustworthy resource for dealing with the natural world; that all children are precious; that our country, despite its faults, is truly exceptional; that everyone’s spiritual practices are their own business; and that our constitutionally mandated freedoms are sacred.
All these common tenets are under threat today!
But in a polarized world, nothing is a given because both sides are more interested in winning the ultimate argument. Because of this, we are losing the ability to agree on things that are good and necessary for everyone.
Here is one example that would be silly if weren’t so dangerous.
I know of one congregation that has two Sunday morning services, one that requires masks and social distancing and one that does not. Even responding to the threat of a global pandemic has become so politicized that persons who share the same faith, the same pastor, the same sanctuary, cannot do so in communion with one another!
Political polarization and the disinterest in finding common ground have become more dangerous to us and our society than any of the individual matters that divide us. It’s time to change how we approach difficult questions and what we expect of our elected leaders.
We have to believe that it is more important to find a shared resolve than it is to get our own way.
As individuals, we must re-learn the art of compromise.
Compromise is when people on opposite sides of an argument both give something up to reach a position that is the least unacceptable to both. Compromise means being open to learning from one another, and it succeeds when both sides remain friends who say, “I can live with this if my friend can live with it, because it is important that we find a way forward.”
The more we practice the art of compromise, the more it will show up in those we elect. The two cities in our county are both blessed with mayors who think and act the way I am advocating.
Mayor Blythe and Mayor Fraley regularly point out that, despite the issues that divide us, we agree on more than we disagree.
Our interests are better served by promoting that common ground than by both sides digging in, refusing to budge, and disparaging one another. We should seek to elect to our city councils those representatives who share the sentiments of our mayors. Each election season, we have a chance to prefer councilpersons who are willing to engage in compromise and negotiation over those who are intransigent and vilify folks on the other side.
We can apply the same principles at the state and national levels: at the primary level by choosing candidates willing to compromise; and, in general elections, by supporting representatives, regardless of party affiliation, who are willing work out differences through compromise.
If we can do that, polarization will diminish.