How to Bridge the Political Divide in 2021

Is it safe to say that 2020 was hard on all of us?

Lost loved ones, postponed celebrations, and favorite restaurant closings are only some of the millions of hardships that we endured as a species. 

How often is this type of global solidarity even possible? How often do we share such an intimate experience?

We. All. Suffered.

That can be hard to admit when we didn’t have it as bad as others, but remember, the friend who lost her job doesn’t win when you deny your own experience over the last year.

2020 was hard.

For me, the hard parts included: 

  • Having and raising our first baby in isolation.
  • Enduring the loneliness of quarantine and social distancing.
  • And cancelling my 30th birthday celebration, which was going to be the bomb.

These things and more made it a hard year, but I realized something after the calendar turned.

One phenomenon in particular struck a nerve, something I witnessed almost daily over the course of the year.

Growing up in Texas, moving to New York City, and ultimately landing in Denver has given me a diverse group of family and friends, an almost perfect microcosm of the political spectrum.

So the most disappointing thing about 2020 for me?

Watching how quickly my friends and family turned on each other.

Gross generalizations replaced individual experiences. 

Spiteful language and name-calling became commonplace in social forums. 

Facebook opinions from non-experts on advanced topics ran rampant, fortifying already existing echo chambers with fresh paint and padlocks. 

Republican voters were lumped into the same category as a minority of extremists among them.

Protestors standing up for racial justice were labeled violent when 97% of the protests were completely peaceful.

Truth became clouded in opinion, statistics were politically motivated, and gaps widened like I’ve never seen.

As someone with a unique social circle, someone who has deep love for humans on both sides of the aisle, it’s been incredibly difficult to witness and process.

Seriously 2020, what just happened?

Who knew all of this anger and hatred and divisiveness was in us? I didn’t, perhaps that’s my own naïveté and eternal optimism. 

Maybe it’s been there all along, I don’t know.

Brené Brown says, “We tend to be our worst selves when we’re afraid,” and there was a lot to be afraid of this year. 

Maybe fear played a role, I don’t know.

I don’t know why it happened, but on top of the natural hardships that came from one hell of a year, I felt an insurmountable disappointment when I watched my closest people make enemies out of each other.

I was disappointed to witness people that I respect perpetuate irrational and unfounded conspiracy theories as absurd as refuting the moon landing.

Disappointed to watch my woke friends dismiss the dumb, racist countryfolk.

Disappointed to see leaders on opposite sides of the aisle appeal to their base instead of humanity. 

Disappointed to see the media choose sensationalized headlines for clicks rather than deliver facts and figures with as little bias as possible.

Disappointed in a variety of virtual church services where I hoped to hear specific and relevant guidance on difficult issues—like Trump, Race, and Covid—but instead saw them tiptoe to avoid stepping on toes.

Disappointed to realize that older generations that we’re supposed to look up to for wisdom and understanding are more interested in their politics.

As a country, we were divided over big, complex issues, but rather than having detailed and factual policy discussions, we followed our leaders—leaders who widened the gap with inflammatory language and bridge burning. 

In 2020, political polarization became the norm in a world where we were already forced into physical isolation. Polarization when what we needed was each other.

As a Christian, I often seek wisdom in the ancient teachings of the Bible. One scripture, Proverbs 18:2, says,

Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.

Ok, so the wise seek to understand the humans they disagree with? They don’t call them evil or dehumanize them? How does that look in practice? 

I believe wisdom asks questions like:

Why do you have that opinion? How does that policy embody your values? What do you think the best way to come to the middle on that issue is? How can we get creative and solve this problem?

The wise make peace by seeking understanding, and in 2020, many retreated to their side of the aisle rather than seeking understanding. 

Blessed are the peacemakers.

But while it was disappointing to learn that not everyone is seeking wisdom and, ultimately, peace, I also learned the power that I do have.

I can still bring peace and a listening ear and a solution-oriented approach to those I encounter.

Disappointment is a hard emotion, it implies hope.

As an eternal optimist, I always hope for and believe in the good. This way of living makes me ripe as a peach in summer for disappointment. 

Shout out to all the hopeful peaches bruised in 2020.

But disappointment can also be a launching point for conviction and change.

See what I mean? Eternal optimist.

The political divide is stronger than it’s ever been. The Flip Side attributes the increasing polarization to geographical sorting, new rules for Congress and nominating party leaders, the increasing role of money in politics and many other factors.

Since we’re more divided than we’ve ever been and many are beginning to see the other side as a threat rather than as an essential opposing force to help further the cause of democracy, I want to help. 

I want my loved ones who have made enemies out of each other to engage in quality conversation at my 31st birthday party which will also be the bomb.

So I’m proposing three things that I think could help us bridge the divide:

1. Embrace balanced media channels like AllSides that help us identify the bias in news reporting and subscribe to email newsletters from The Flip Side, a bipartisan organization that provides daily summaries of political analysis from both conservative and liberal media, to gain understanding of both sides of an issue.

2. Join communities on social media that exist to bring people together with education and civil discourse like @sharonsaysso on Instagram.

3. Listen to each other to understand, not to counter, and problem solve together.

Will there ever be another moment in our lifetime where this type of global solidarity is even possible? When excruciating global hardships tested us in such a personal way at the exact same time?

I’m not sure, and although I spent a lot of time disappointed this year, I’ve returned to a more productive emotion: Hope.

I believe that we can use this pressure to learn and problem solve and come together.

I might be wrong, but I hope I’m not.


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