“You engage fanaticism with love, first, for your own sake. If you succumb to the natural temptation to greet this anger with your own anger, you’ll just spend your days consumed by bitterness and revenge. You’ll be a worse person in all ways.”
–David Brooks, The New York Times
The world is more divisive than ever. Here’s what to do. Are you ready?
Never think or say that the world is more divisive than ever. And stop buying into the increasingly omnipresent narrative that these are times of unprecedented “suffering” and “struggling.”
Am I suggesting you live in a hallucinatory thought bubble? Yes, perhaps I am. Because operating from a place where you draw more inner peace versus anger allows you to act with more personal power and take better positive actions to support the ideals and causes you believe in.
Nowadays it feels like everyone is buying into “the world is more divisive than ever” meme. I see it at my gym while CNN is playing without sound in the background. When I fire up KEXP on my iPhone for some indie rock inspiration, I hear the morning DJ, who I love, opine about it. Last Sunday when I watched Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday interview with Eckhart Tolle,* this was her underlying theme. Oh, and I really love Oprah.
I’m not denying we have in office an angry and contentious U.S. President who behaves with no precedent or any semblance of positive character or empowering leadership. But why do ‘we’ keep taking Trump’s bait? Yes, I know, he is the President and all, but why are so many of us continuously hell bent on feeding off his tweets of anger and judgement, and in response generating way too much of our own?
Sure, we may seem to be more divided on racial, economic and political lines. And don’t get me wrong. Watching Neo-Nazis in large numbers parade around the streets of the U.S. with swastika-emblazoned flags is epically disturbing to me. However, perhaps I’m unique in feeling a sense of relief that they’re “out” versus cloistered in their hideaways. It’s better for us to acknowledge with more awareness that the haters are out there and have always been so. Ignorance is not bliss. When the racist and sexist cockroaches come out of the walls, that’s when you can hit them with some boric acid.
Let’s now turn on the way-back machine and look at some history. In the mid 1970s, I attended elementary school in Central Massachusetts about 40 miles northwest of Boston during the Busing Crisis. You wanna talk about racial division? The shit that came out of white people’s mouths and the accompanying violent skirmishes to defend a public school system that clearly provided unequal opportunity were appalling and disgusting.
Let’s talk about more of our history. What about The Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War, the omnipresence of the KKK and other violent and murdering hate groups through much of the 20th century, or the assassination of MLK? Were these not among the most divisive times with massive amounts of death and destruction? Perhaps the absence of always-on and accessible online media grabbing for more clicks, not to mention social media, make it appear that times are more divisive now. If so, then based on pure logic and data, I think that’s a ridiculous assertion. Here is an idea: Becoming a student of World War II and internalizing how singularly unprecedented that era was in terms of racism, violence, hostility and death on an incomprehensible scale, may be the best thing we as empowered citizens can do to make sure we don’t experience a World War III.
Look at crime rates over time. Then look at how we’re actually dying in massive numbers in this country. Hint: It’s caused by more than a factor of 10X from what we eat and how much unnecessary weight we carry on our bodies than by how many guns are circulating on our streets. And a key root cause of gun violence is obviously the deplorable state of mental health support we simply don’t provide for those who most need it. And no, I don’t own or want to own a gun nor am I card-carrying member of the NRA.
I’m not blind to the institutional and individual racism, sexism, and brutal treatment of our fellow humans that is still rampant across the globe. But I fail to see how there is ever any alternative to being fully appreciative of where we are right now. And I don’t think there has ever been a better time to be alive, to thrive, and to be of service to others.
An obvious key element of being of service to others is treating them compassionately and giving them the respect they deserve. It is also indicated by what we do not do or engage in. As just one of many possible examples, if you abhor the way FOX News has systematically treated their female employees for decades, then don’t watch FOX News, regardless of your political leanings. Find a list of their advertisers and patronize them less or not at all. Will that make a difference? Individually, no. Collectively, yes it’s more likely. And you know that’s how the game works when more of us walk our talk with our wallets.
On the more positive side, I humbly suggest that when you interact with so-called strangers, you treat them with the kindness and respect they deserve as humans no matter what. For example, I don’t care if you just received shitty service in a restaurant or at Starbucks. Be kind to your server. Instead of being critical and nasty if things don’t go your way, try curiosity. What else could be going on this person’s life, or more likely back in the kitchen, that led to your sub-optimal experience?
When you see passersby on the street, if you can’t muster a genuine smile, at least try an open expression accompanied by open body language. Be in the moment. Make eye contact. A buddy of mine always makes a point to say Hi when he passes by strangers. His return rate is about 50 percent. That’s a lot better than zero.
“If you want the world to be a better place, be a better person.”
The equation is as simple as this. The more you internalize and LIVE the negative narrative over the long term, the more you will perceive yourself, either consciously or subconsciously, as a powerless victim and the less impactful you will be in the world as an energy force for good. As a result, you will sell us, the people who depend on you, short. Put the boxing gloves down and be more accepting. Note that I said “accepting” and not complacent. After all, is it what happens to us, or what we DO based on what happens to us that can make an enduringly positive impact? You know the answer to that one.
This is my narrative. What’s yours?