I have always looked at situations from many different angles as if life was one giant Rubik’s cube. I twist and turn assorted variables and look at them this way and that. It’s just how I think. I have learned that ultimately there is no one solution to life’s issues; just different perspectives. That is how I view the world; as sets of patterns and variables. Because I am human, I do have favorites. There are ways of seeing that I favor. But I also accept that there are other ways of looking at things that have merit.
Periods of ideological polarity make me incredibly uncomfortable and anxious. We see in history that times of extremism lead inevitably to periods of violence. This is always true. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, social systems cannot sustain ideological imbalance. Something will always give, and the result is always a lot of suffering. Mostly by innocent people.
So, theoretical discussion aside, I think we all know that we live in an increasingly polarized society. People have their own views, belief systems, ways of seeing things. And they have a right to see things their own way. The problem is that as a community, as a nation, we get to choose how we are governed and what laws govern us together. That gets to be difficult when we see things in very different ways. Some people want more government, some less. Or maybe, we all agree that we want fewer murders, but some think more guns are the answer, some less. This goes on and on and on. All of us approaching issues from our own experiences, backgrounds and beliefs. And no one perspective can “win” without others losing.
I think that many people, of good conscience and solid values, with differing viewpoints, wish that we could bridge the gaps that divide us and figure out a way to stand together as a nation and live harmoniously. But it’s hard to know how. Some of us post memes about our views, or expressions of frustration. Others clam up and keep to themselves. We all cope in our own ways, with anger, sadness, anxiety, action. Whatever gets us through.
I have been thinking about this a great deal. Trying to reconcile the fact that people I love and respect can think so differently about the world. Trying to see things from their perspective. Hoping that they are doing the same about people who think and feel differently than they do. Wondering how to bring our country, our communities, our families together instead of endlessly tearing each other apart. And my only solution, or maybe not even a solution, but a path, is the path of civility. A value that is sorely lacking right now.
Civility is more than agreeing to disagree. Civility implies a measure of respect in spite of differences. Respect involves genuine consideration, and even caring, about those who are like and not like us. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are situations when we must stand up to violence, injustice and violations of human rights even if it means responding in kind. And that time may well be upon us. But I also believe that as we interact with our follow citizens in the world each day, we can do a lot more good by working to build bridges rather than tear one another apart.
I have been taking extra care to think about how I behave in the world lately. To try to be aware of the everyday kindnesses of strangers, of my interactions with other people. To be a little more kind and patient myself. I am not so naive as to think that me holding a door for someone will save the world. What I do think is that spending a little more time being aware that we are all human, all frightened of something, all wanting happiness and security, is a good place to start.