“They want us to be afraid.
They want us to be afraid of leaving our homes.
They want us to barricade our doors and hide our children.
Their aim is to make us fear life itself!
They want us to hate.
They want us to hate 'the other'.
They want us to practice aggression and perfect antagonism.
Their aim is to divide us all!
They want us to be inhuman.
They want us to throw out our kindness.
They want us to bury our love and burn our hope.
Their aim is to take all our light!
They think their bricked walls will separate us.
They think their damned bombs will defeat us.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand that my soul and your soul are old friends.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand that when they cut you I bleed.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that we will never be afraid,
we will never hate
and we will never be silent
for life is ours!”
- Kamand Kojouri
The term neighbor has lost most of its meaning in recent years. A neighbor used to be someone you shared common sense values with. It was a collective you could count on for a cup of sugar or to keep an eye on your kids when they played outside. Now a neighbor is just someone who happens to live near you. Community is a dying concept for many living in cities or suburbs.
Our politics seem to define us more than our morals. Ideas we disagree with are pushed out of sight so that our exposure to them is as minimal as possible. A Biden Democrat and a Trump Republican hear what each other are saying, but neither side stops to actually listen. Conversations are dead before they begin because "the other" is not worth speaking to. "The other" has ideas about the world that are dangerous. Arrogant winners and sore losers.
Meanwhile, no meaningful change happens, only the illusion of change. We have been led to believe there are only two options, my way or the highway, and it is a win-lose equation every single time.
Is any of this empirically true?
No. If you do not believe me, reach out and touch the other side and you will see. We all live in our own caves with the same people and the same ideas ricocheting off the walls so loudly that nothing else can be heard. It is all a lie. It is all perception. I am optimistic about our future and you should be too. I know that these lines that have been drawn between us are meaningless.
We've endured much worse.
Many people feel as if our country is more divided than ever before. You can turn on Fox or CNN, where there have been conversations about what secession from the union would look like for certain states like California or Texas. The general sentiment of the nation is that we are divided and it is getting worse. Taxes, universal healthcare, gun control, immigration, and abortion are issues that pale by comparison to what has divided us in the past. Our nation has been bent much harder and has not broken yet.
The Civil War is the most obvious example but is hard to relate to in any meaningful way. A better and more recent example is the civil rights movement and desegregation. By definition, Jim Crow laws divided us. Today, race is still used to divide us, but those lines which were once bright are fading more each year and each generation. When looking at our history, our division today seems petty. It is clearly not the insurmountable obstacle that we have been led to believe.
Coke and Pepsi
This idea that there are only two choices is not a new one. You are either a Coke drinker or a Pepsi drinker. This was an advertisement strategy that benefitted both Coke and Pepsi. The same strategy has kept the Republicans and Democrats in a pendulum of power swinging back and forth every few years. It has made us slaves to the two-party system. It forces a nation of over 160 million voters to pick the lesser of two evils.
In George Washington's famous farewell address, he warned against the dangers of political parties. He warned against the division and feared it would spread. Every election cycle, we are led to believe that the nation will fall apart if you do not make the right decision in the ballot box. The perception is that one side loses and the other side wins. In reality, the voters lose, and the politicians win. The stakes are not as high as they appear to be. The pendulum always swings back to the other side and the Democrats and Republicans in power understand this. So, as long as your only two options are Coke and Pepsi, you never make a meaningful choice; this is the illusion of choice. This is also known as Hobson's choice; when you have the freedom to choose from multiple options, but in reality, only one thing is being offered and there are no real alternatives.
The way they maintain that power and binary voting system is simple. They use fear. Fear thy neighbor. Once you fear your neighbor, it is only a short distance to hating them. If you hate and fear someone and their ideas, why would you ever listen to them? These political parties want to make the lines of division as bright as possible, so bright that you cannot even see who or what is on the other side.
Fear is a profitable business.
Everyone has to understand before absorbing any news content that, first and foremost, these are businesses. These businesses have one primary goal, which is to be profitable. The "news" is not about informing the public; frankly, it never has been. It is about what story will sell. Informing the public is usually a side effect of that. The news is and always has been entertainment. We look to the news on days of triumph and crisis, and their coverage is nothing short of spectacular. Think about when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, when the Twin Towers collapsed, or when JFK was assassinated. On those days, our memories were shaped by the incredible coverage. But we must remember that every other day, it is a business trying to make money and fear sells.
Someone is far more likely to click on an article with an explosive title that dredges up fear than one that accurately depicts what is happening. Centrist content does not get many clicks because reality is typically more boring than the extremes. The left-wing media would rather spend time covering a tiny minority of white supremacists, and the right-wing media would rather spend time covering a tiny minority of communist revolutionaries because it sells. Most people I meet and talk to on both sides of the political spectrum are nowhere near extreme and agree on far more than they even know. If you believe "the other" is so deplorable that they are not even worth speaking to, you have given up all of your political power in this country.
We are individuals.
America was built from the idea of individualism. This is what keeps me optimistic about our future. We are not defined by our tribe, political views, or favorite sports team. We are individuals who came together under a common set of agreed-upon individual freedoms. What unites us are those ideas of freedom that led us to participate in this experiment we call America. Respect for those individual freedoms is what holds us together.
The division we see today is only there if we allow it to be. If you are afraid, you will never understand "the other". If you disagree with someone, try talking to them; avoiding them will only make the gap wider. America is only as divided as you make it. Most of us want the same things and the same future, but we have different ideas for getting there. Once you begin to understand this, the lines do not seem so bright.