There is a disease that is weakening our society from within. It has lived among us for generations and grows in times of uncertainty. It blinds us from our collective strength of examining our world through the dialogue of reason and logic by separating us into partitions. Once the disease penetrates deep enough, these divisions become a common way for many to easily define their world without even speaking to each other. The disease is extreme division by affiliation. Before dialogue between neighbors can even begin, man-made divisions become a rite of passage to decide whether what an individual says is right or wrong.
Throughout history, our greatest accomplishments have come from the collection, examination and execution of ideas as differing perspectives come together. In stark contrast, our darkest days have come from divisions that attempt to claim that there is but one truth. To start the process of remission, we must be bold enough to look past our own learned realities and understand the challenges we face as if we are experiencing them for the first time.
Division by affiliation has stifled communications
It is natural as human beings to categorize our world to understand the vast amounts of information that we collect and decipher each day. In fact, that is how we developed the ability to learn and build upon abstract concepts like language, economics and the inalienable rights possessed by all human beings. Our ability to understand intangible concepts through philosophy, physics and the arts has allowed us to pass wisdom down from one generation to the next by categorizing our knowledge throughout time. Unfortunately, when we as humans believe that we can simply divide all knowledge into absolute right or wrong, we begin to lose our way.
In our recent political and social environment, we have allowed outside forces, that have their own interests in mind, to control how we categorize our world and set up the principles of right and wrong in an attempt to sway our actions. We see, at a rapidly concerning rate, special interest groups and political activists continue to push divisive agendas that post themselves on the “right side of history” and those that think differently as “destroying the very fabric of society.” These terms may sound extreme, but they are the exact verbiage I received from political mailings over the last year, each one from opposite sides of the political spectrum.
The most troubling part of this blindness is that it is not simply a physical characteristic of our senses that is easy to detect but a dampening of our minds. It has started to control the worldview of vast numbers of people and how they interpret the difference between the concepts of right or wrong based on what these outside entities have prescribed. Once the catalyst of social media allows that blindness to penetrate at an unprecedented rate, even media that we once considered trustworthy sources of knowledge joins in the effort. Instead of reporting the news and the impacts of the events on our lives, the focus becomes political motivations and reactionary emotions instead of allowing experts on the subject to be part of the discussion. The communication presented to our communities devolves into creating the most sensational abstracts of information in an attempt to gain more followers than the competition.
Division by affiliation has reached our daily interactions
Recently, I received a message from an individual that was upset that he was sent an invite to like our social media page. This page shares information from community nonprofits, local businesses and state and local government initiatives to encourage people to share their ideas for making our community better. The hatred from the message, which is provided below, is based purely on the fact that I am registered as a different political party then him. The saddest part about this experience is that it is not surprising. Being involved in public service in some capacity since 2007 I have seen this same approach taken by individuals from all party affiliations. In all of these instances, the man-made divisions have stopped dialogue with the intended individual before it even began.
In addition to feeling unable to speak with this individual, this interaction strengthened my ideas on staying focused on the needs within my community and continuing to advocate towards impacting positive change within my circle of influence. As individuals, we can do so much to turn the tide of this epidemic where we live, work and interact with each other every day.
Having the opportunity at age 29 to serve my hometown of Milford as Mayor, I was fortunate to start the public service side of my career with no political parties. Running as simply ward representatives instead of Democrat or Republican, we were able to come to the table to discuss street-level challenges, have in depth conversations and create strategic plans to move our community forward. We used this advantage to listen to a diversity of families in our town and continually evolve our plans to the situation, without fear of special interests or political parties using or continued progression towards a more perfect future as a weakness for their own gains.
As a State Representative, I have seen many partnerships throughout the state work to better the opportunities for Delaware families. I have also seen another side recently, as an uptick in political agendas and positional activists have taken prominence over in-depth discussions that aim to find community-driven solutions. Some seem so blinded by the obligations of campaign promises and political ideology that they forget about the well-rounded understanding that comes from open discussions with differing viewpoints and the holistic outcomes that ultimately serve the larger community.
Strengthening our shared dialogue
With so much technology at our fingertips that allows us to interact with others across the globe, we have lost the ability to engage in dialogue with those that we share our everyday lives. The push for national news and social media in our daily lives has allowed the world view of “us versus them” to control even our local interactions and has led us to close our minds to each other. What we must do is start to fight against this worldview and stop ourselves from seeing each other only through the lens of political agendas and positional activism. If this continues, we will not be able to help our neighbors let alone take on the large challenges in our communities that have not seen clear positive direction for so long.
It is time that we as the people, take charge of our own future and not allow outside interests to dictate our worldview. We must celebrate leaders that place importance on listening to street-level challenges, creating opportunities to move us forward and that are courageous enough to turn away from “quick fixes” that create instant gratification. We need to support leaders that take on our long-term challenges and commit to working together on the foundational changes needed to rebuild our outdated systems.
In our daily lives we can help turn around our own prejudices by reminding ourselves that each person’s unique experience has created the reality in which they live. We can listen to their needs and ask for their ideas to help those needs within our communities. We can encourage them to join us in actionable movements to better local situations.
In my own life, I have made a priority to talk with, visit and volunteer my time and energy with people I may not see during my average day. These simple acts have allowed me to grow my own understanding, empathy and have contributed greatly to my own happiness. We must remember that we alone do not hold the answers to a more perfect future. Replacing division by affiliation with dialogue that aims at understanding and collaboration is the path that will help us to focus on creating real, positive impacts in our lives.