Choosing a Better Response to Sustained Social Divisiveness

Is there more divisiveness in the world now than at any other time in history? That question is nearly impossible to answer. That said, most people I talk to feel that divisiveness of all sorts, political, theological, racial, and personal, has become a sustained part of their everyday life, even if they don’t want to participate in it. The question then becomes: How do people respond to such sustained divisiveness?

The following is a sample of common responses.

Apathy: Some people tune out and become apathetic. “It’s not my problem,” they exclaim. Yet, they are not immune. The modern spread of discord is such that it will reach them sooner or later, thusly making it their problem.

Angst and Worry: Other people are glued to the news and scour social media feeds for all signs of divisiveness. Because they feel powerless to stop it, many become debilitated by fear and anxiety.

Numbing: When acrimony becomes overwhelming, there are those among us who have found their way to the bottom of a bottle of red wine (or two or three or four…). Other popular numbing agents are drugs (legal and illegal), binge-watching television, overeating, smoking, and forms of behavior that temporarily distract from the surrounding rancor. Sadly, numbing is only temporary and doesn’t solve any problems.

Anger and Outrage: These days, a rather large movement of people is calling for sustained anger and outrage. While this response may be understandable, it is a well-known fact that anger begets anger, that hate begets hate, and that spiritual teachers of all ages have urged devotees to do what is hard and meet hate with love. Anger and outrage may bring attention to the problem, but they don’t fix the underlying issues that are causing the divisiveness to begin with; in fact, they may end up worsening the situation. Plus, those feelings cause people to feel drained and exhausted.

Over the past five years, I’ve worked in the interfaith arena and been heartened to see that many people have chosen different responses. Rather than getting stuck in anger, apathy, numbing, or anxiety, people are doing their best to be a part of the solution. Instead of responding to the outrage each moment, they are thinking long-term about mending relationships and finding ways for people to live together in peace and harmony.

What makes these people different is that they are willing to roll up their sleeves and contribute to the solution in any way they can. From compassionate trainings to interfaith efforts and forgiveness work, there are people all across this country who are dedicated to creating a better world — they just don’t get on the news every day.

Naysayers will point out that most of these efforts are small and unlikely to change the social atmosphere any time soon. I disagree. Small efforts create ripples.

Mother Teresa reminded us that not all of us can change the world, but all of us can do small things with great love. Brian Tracy said that life is hard by the yard, but that inch-by-inch everything’s a cinch. Theodore Roosevelt often encouraged people to do what they could, with what they had, where they were.

I agree with those sentiments.

Some of those who have come to my bridge-building seminars in the past few years have left with small plans to improve relations in their apartment buildings and within their families. Those relationships matter. Others have been more ambitious and have engaged their faith communities to reach out across both theological and racial divides. All of these small actions matter and create ripples.

If you are solution-oriented and willing to work for the long-term benefit of society, I urge you to keep going. All those who are willing need to be working on the solutions more than focusing on the problems. Thankfully, from what I’ve seen, efforts to build bridges and mend relationships are never wasted.

I took a year out of my life to find ideas and methods that work in this arena. If you need help with your efforts, you might want to take a look at Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides.

Keep up the good work.

GB

Icelandic-American author, bridge-builder, interfaith minister, and amateur musician. Learn more at www.gudjonbergmann.com

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