Polarized and divided

Polarization and distrust are luxuries we can no longer afford…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

You can hardly see a magazine article or a social media post without seeing endless hand-wringing about how polarized and divided we, as a nation have become.

And to a large degree it’s true – we have become divided.

It has taken years, but those from within and without have largely succeeded in dividing us, but they have succeeded because we let them, or even because we wanted them to.

There’s an old saying that no one can persuade you to do anything you really never wanted to do.

Those who worked so hard to divide us knew that, as much as we might deny it, division and polarization was something many of us wanted all along.

I know it sounds crazy, but if you think about it, it makes sense.

The media makes a lot out of our “differences” – urban, rural, rich, poor, conservative and liberal, racial and cultural splits, among many others.

But my sense is that the divide is far different.

Division, suspicion and distrust, like any other habit of thought, become more deeply embedded with use.

As with any other thinking, we are attracted to what appeals to us and confirms what we already believe – primarily that we are right, and those people, of different faith, upbringing or ethnicity are wrong.

Like many over the end of December, I found myself hearing a reflective message wrapped around the season.

I am not entirely certain that I received the intended message, but here’s what jumped out at me.

The scripture reference was Galatians chapter five;

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

Contrasted with the section immediately following-

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. ….. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

How about the middle of the first section; “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” doesn’t that sound like just about every political speech or conversation you hear about in the news? Or even all too many family conversations?

Lawsuits, dismissals, conspiracy theories and scandals fill our news feeds – and they keep our eyes glued to our screens, as much as we might deny our fascination with them.

When was the last time you heard someone speak with “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”?

The topic doesn’t even matter. To hear someone in authority speak respectfully, even of those they disagree with, has become a rarity.

I did not vote for George H. W. Bush, but in his concession speech regarding his loss in the presidential election to Bill Clinton, I was struck by his conciliatory tone and his respect both for the new president and the political process – and, even for those who did not vote for him.

His growing public (and private) friendship with the Clintons solidified my sense that George H. W. Bush, even though I never voted for him, was a kind, generous and decent human being – a person I would trust and be glad to have as a neighbor.

Several years ago, Stephen Covey promoted the idea that every conversation, every business deal and every political bargain should be “win-win.”

My only argument with that, is that, to my mind at least, there is no other alternative.

If I feel cheated or taken advantage of, at a store for example, if at all possible, I refuse to do business with them ever again.

If they have treated me unfairly, they have lost not only a sale, but a customer.

And how many of us, as customers, stay silent about our negative experiences?

The reality is that we who feel “taken” by a business tell at least ten people about our experience.

No business that cheats will keep their doors open long.

But those business that treat us well, are loved and supported, even through the most difficult times.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like a major character flaw if we need The Bible or business books to tell us to do the obvious.

Polarization, distrust and division are the foundation of any society’s death spiral.

If we don’t trust each other, our businesses and our political processes, what have we become? Who do we believe? And on what grounds?

Too many of us, from neighbors to business leaders to politicians have based our careers on being “conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

You don’t need to be a historian, or a business major, or even a psychologist to know that such a philosophy may be profitable in the short term, but is corrosive and destructive to businesses, families and communities.

In our social media, and maybe even our conversations, we have become so accustomed to “mis-information” that we barely know who or what to believe.

As we begin a new year, I urge every one of us to claim truth, integrity and decency – and pledge to not only reject the false when we hear it, but also refuse to repeat it, or even allow it to saturate us and find a home in our attitudes and words.

How many euphemisms for lying, from “base-less claims” to “mis-information” to a hundred more, do we need before we decide that we have had enough emptiness and, from now on “the truth, and nothing but the truth” will be the distinguishing characteristic of the new year?

Polarization and distrust are luxuries we can no longer afford.