These days, I've been thinking a lot about why people are so polarized and so angry and hateful toward one-another. The right wing of politics has tremendous animosity toward the left and vice-versa; race relations are at an all-time low; Poland is lately declaring certain communities “LGBT-free;” and it seems like every other day we read about people harassing or bullying random strangers on the street for reasons of pure intolerance.
Not that long ago, we'd come far in terms of developing empathy, compassion and tolerance for one-another. We were getting good at understanding and accepting other people's differences and living together in peace. Lately, though, we're more divided than ever. We’re hunkering down in our narrowly-defined camps, fearful and hateful toward “the other.” It's incredibly disappointing.
The other day I was listening to relationship expert (she calls herself a “student” of relationships), Esther Perel, on CBC Radio One, and she was asked about the issues that are dividing people the most these days. I really appreciated Perel’s response. She said she didn't think the issues were as divisive as our current lack of tolerance for other points of view.
Perel described how in these ever more uncertain times, many of us are craving certainty, so we cluster together in like-minded groupings and insist that only we are right; only we know the truth; we're morally superior and the others are wrong, bad, ugly, dirty, defective, and so on.
You can see it blatantly displayed in the tweets of the current US president, who tells members of congress who are US citizens and women of color to “go back where you came from,” and who describes Black neighborhoods in the country as “infested.”
The current US president, like the Nazi leadership in 1930's Germany, is systematically dehumanizing the “other” - that is, anyone not white, Christian and male - and in so doing, he’s setting the tone for a country-wide level of intolerance toward everyone else's differences.
In these uncertain times, what we need most is community, not alienation; we need cooperation, not conflict. If we work together in harmony, we're far more likely to solve our problems than if we fight among ourselves. We need to access the minds and hearts of the best and brightest among us to solve one of the most frightening problems the world has ever faced – global warming.
Hating each-other and refusing to consider different points of view is exactly the opposite approach we need to solve the pressing problems that we face. We need consensus, compromise, and above all open-minded listening.
The divisions that are being promoted by those who are intolerant of other lifestyles or points of view are making it that much harder for us to find the answers that we desperately need.
Perhaps it gives these individuals a sense of security to believe with the utmost certainty that they’re in the right but it’s a false sense of security. Being rigid, dogmatic and closed-minded prevents us from learning and evolving; it prevents us from recognizing our mistakes and correcting them before it’s too late.
Rigidity and dogmatism also leads to “us and them” thinking, and to dehumanizing the other. This makes it easy to hurt or even kill those who are different from us, and we’re seeing a lot more hate crimes and hate-inspired murders of late.
When we feel insecure in the face of enormous problems we need more ideas; not fewer. We need all the potential resources available in order to come to the best possible solution. when we stick around with people who do everything the same way we do, we become like little cults, where no-one is allowed to diverge, and like with most cults, these tend to explode with violence and/or implode into self-destruction.
My call to action today is for everyone to stop fighting with people who are different from them and start to listen to one-another. We don't have to agree with everything the other person does or says, but that doesn't mean that we should hate them and want to hurt them.
We need to cultivate more tolerance and acceptance and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge and experience that other people have to share. We need to let go of our fear and hatred of people who aren’t like us and cultivate love, compassion and acceptance.
Being polarized might give us a false sense of security but it actually puts everyone at greater risk. It creates a vicious circle. The more separate we feel, the more fearful we become. The more fearful we become, the angrier we get. The angrier we get, the more violently we behave.
Look at Nazi Germany. Their hatred of “the other” soon overflowed their borders and led to World War Two. Today, with so many nations harboring nuclear arsenals, this type of global conflict could potentially end life on the planet even faster than global warming could.
Some of our leaders are telling us that we need to “divide and conquer,” or that people who look differently or think differently are not to be trusted. History has amply shown that harmony and inter-connection lead to everyone thriving, whereas xenophobia and hatred lead to everyone suffering.
It’s time to let go of our ignorant prejudices and get to know the people around us. We don’t have to adopt their religious or political views, but we can learn from one-another and in the spirit of tolerance and cooperation, we can move forward into a much better world.