That love your neighbor thing? That golden rule espoused by most of the world’s religions? It’s not about only loving those who we agree with.
But why is this ideal not preached by our governments, or by most in our mainstream media (which in the U.S. has been consolidated into just five huge control-our-thinking-and-consumer-habits conglomerates), or by anyone else in power? Because keeping we the people divided, and controlling our thinking (and our spending), keeps our would-be collective power in check.
Merriam Webster’s definition of the Latin term divide et impera, or divide and rule: split the opposition so that it ceases to threaten your own power. It’s been a pretty effective tool, used alongside fear of other, for thousands of years.
Here in the United States, which some may refer to as the “Divided States,” we obviously disagree on some major issues, such as abortion and gun control for example. And, less heatedly, we disagree on how to arrive at some of the same goals we each have, such as safe streets or a healthy economy. And as of late, we are in heated disagreement with each other about who our president should be, and the direction they would seek to take our country. But aren’t we, collectively as Americans, and as part of humanity, bound by so much more than a few heated issues and different ideas about how to approach solving our problems?
Do we extinguish the possibility of what we might create together through deep listening and reasoned compromise because we are each so blindly and deafly stuck to our own particular views and alignments that we can’t hear or see another’s? Leaving all sides, in the process, far more vulnerable?
Is this how we want our children to deal with disagreements? To refuse to listen, and respond hatefully to anyone who poses a view different than ours? Is this what our forefathers, both literal and figurative, would have wished for us?
What would we realize about ourselves if we took a large step back and looked from afar, like astronomers and astronauts have done, at how we act here on this small dot, this “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam” that we call home?
Let’s just take one subject that keeps us divided. Abortion. It’s a heated minefield. And I can imagine thoughts you might be having right now.
“A woman’s right to choose is fundamental. If Roe v. Wade is overturned we will be headed back to the dark ages of bloody coat hangers and mangled women.”
“The government has no place in my uterus.”
“Abortion is murder. Every life matters. And I’m speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
“How come so many libtards say they are all about lovey-dovey equal rights for all yet they are adamant that it be legal for a woman to choose to have a life sucked from them by a vacuum into a blender?”
I would argue to both sides, however, that at least some people are aligned to one side of an issue or the other not necessarily because they’ve given it thoughtful consideration, but because it is just part of the packaged thinking of whatever larger ideology one most aligns with, or was born into. “I am a progressive or a liberal so I must be pro-choice.” “I am a Christian conservative so I must be pro-life.” And so on.
I know this is possible because for many years I myself rather reluctantly aligned as pro-choice purely based on the fact I mostly identify politically as a progressive. But I finally had to admit —and no doubt this will raise the ire of many of my pro-choice friends and pro-choice advocates perhaps reading here—that abortion does not feel like a very progressive ideal or action to me. And, being moved as of late to discuss the issue with whoever is willing—family members, friends, strangers at my local watering hole, fellow travelers on a recent train trip across the heart of our country—I have been surprised to discover how much common ground is shared by both sides on the issue. (And, indeed, shared by both sides on any issue—which is actually the point of this essay.)
Before either side rips me a new one, let me be very clear, I am not advocating here for a reversal of Roe v. Wade. But I have always said, after regretting the abortion I had, that abortions shouldn’t be such an easy choice. I didn’t meet with my doctor and make an informed decision. I didn’t meet with a counselor. I was young, alone, afraid, and a friend gave me an address to a clinic. On a cold winter’s day, I drove myself to the strip-mall clinic in another town, and while I shivered on the cold hard table, a man I had never met sucked my baby out of my body. Yay for me, I got to choose. But it didn’t take long before I regretted this rash and all too permanent choice that I had exercised.
Before my grandson was born last year—after his mother, very thankfully, decided against an abortion—my daughter says she had aligned as pro-choice. She says that she’d always figured if she had an unwanted pregnancy she would just abort, no big deal. “That was the culture in college too, mom, people just get abortions without thinking about it.” But now she holds her nephew in her arms and says she has changed her thinking. To be more accurate, in my estimation, she began thinking. And we began an important ongoing dialogue.
My daughter had read a draft of this essay before we saw the movie Hidden Figures together a couple nights ago. Walking home after the movie, discussing the troubling (understatement) history of segregation, racial inequality, and gender inequality, my daughter said, “I wonder how much of it was, and still is, like what you say in your essay, that people just align, without much thought or question, to beliefs and ideologies they were raised with, or as part of a larger political package they most identify with? Until someone, or a movement, comes along and demonstrates a different way that gets them to thinking?”
While I am neither aligned as pro-life or pro-choice, I am aligned as pro-common ground. And, recognizing that abortion is about to become an even more heated issue in this country, I believe that rather than anger, yelling, facing off, and deepened division, we should engage in not a national debate but a national dialogue about abortion. Furthermore, I believe that such a dialogue will reveal common ground that would not only narrow the gap and division between us, but allow us the possibility of working together to craft a policy that all sides can come to some agreement on.
Ditto with the gun debate.
And if we can find common ground on these two especially divisive issues, imagine all the other issues we may be able to find common ground on. Especially the ones we likely agree on, like wanting clean air, clean water, healthy food, affordable housing, affordable healthcare, safe streets, and a world free of terror—including the terror of war, and maybe even things like fair wages, affordable education, and a planet not pushed to the brink of not being hospitable to human existence.
Peaceful and non-violent resistance has clearly been, historically, a very effective tool. I don’t intend to diminish here the need there may be for it on several fronts right now. But, I also don’t want to see us become even more divided. For I believe, when all is reconciled by history, coming together for what we agree on will be much more effective than yelling, calling each other names, and continuing to allow ourselves to be purposefully divided. Be it about abortion, guns, jobs, health care, the environment, social justice, or the direction our country is headed under any given administration.
As previously mentioned, I recently took a train trip across the country through the so-called “fly over states.” In addition to looking forward to the unparalleled scenery, and to seeing my country from a different angle, I was most looking forward to meeting people from outside my own comfort zones. This trip was post-election and pre-inauguration, and having lived my entire 52 years west of Interstate 5 in each of the blue states that currently want to annex to Canada, I was curious to meet people from a different political spectrum and American experience. I was not disappointed.
Train travel means tight quarters and often seeing the same people for hours, if not days. It’s like taking a slow elevator across the country. But unlike on an elevator, because you are in forced company for an extended period, you quickly move beyond being strangers. If only we could see how we are similarly bound in our travels as human beings aboard our small dot.
I met and got to know (even if briefly) so many people across our great American tapestry, all with interesting and colorful life stories and multi-faceted opinions. And while we didn’t agree on everything we discussed there was mutual appreciation that our paths had crossed. I was saddened at each stop, when new friends departed the train, knowing that our paths would likely never cross again.
Over the course of a week—in five days of trains and two days of planes full of people from all walks, across and back again this great and diverse and beautiful nation—I did not meet, or come across, one un-kind person. Not one. And while I had expected to, I never did see the great divide we keep hearing about. I only saw people who are bound by something much larger than a few heated issues. And seeing this bond, experiencing it up close and personal, gave me tremendous hope.
What might we choose as a way forward here? First, perhaps a thoughtful examination of one’s beliefs and alignments are in order. Second, once we are very clear of our values and alignments, we need to reach out to each other, especially those who we supposedly disagree with, and seek to find the common ground that exists between us. Third, and most importantly, we should come together and recognize and celebrate the fact that we are neighbors with a common cause, and then, rather than remaining divided against ourselves and left with a world a small cabal of rulers and their financiers desire, we can work together and fight for the world we want for our children and all future generations.
I would like to end this essay, and begin our national (and international) dialogue and search for common ground, with something the late astronomer Carl Sagan wrote in his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot, regarding a photo he had requested Voyager I to take of the earth from space in 1990:
Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.