THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
Polls show that most people think we are. But that may be just a perception.
It's an old cliché that Americans are divided. News commentators like to say that we are "more divided than ever."
And this idea seems to have seeped into the public consciousness: A recent Gallup poll showed that 77% of Americans feel that we are "deeply divided on the most important values."
So the perception of division is there. But are we really divided?
It's true that the rhetoric seems more heated than ever. Our president ran his campaign with a tone of bluster and vitriol. Videos of some angry person, liberal or conservative, pop up on your Facebook feed everyday. And outrage seems to be the norm on Twitter.
But all of that is tone. How about the content of our ideas? The things that we actually value and believe?
I'm guessing that most of us agree that we want greater happiness for ourselves and our children. Does anybody actually disagree on this?
Happiness, or wellbeing, is the master value. It's what we all want. Where we get confused is in the details.
We quibble over things like economics. Part of the reason we do though, is that economics is far from an exact science. Very smart people are working on it. But we don't fully understand it yet.
Culture plays a role, too. It adds confusion in places where we would otherwise find agreement. Imagine if we could ignore all the stereotypes about liberal hippies and conservative rednecks. Then we’d just see people.
Compounding all this division is that we're deeply cynical about two of our most important institutions: government and media. Gallup polls indicate that 81% of Americans don’t trust the government, and 68% of Americans don't trust the media.
Okay, so what DO we trust? This cynicism is nonsense and it needs to stop.
It's worth reflecting on what it might be like to live in a country that has no real government (like Somalia; it's chaos and tragedy). Or a country that has no free media (like China, where they censor the Internet).
In the U.S., at least we’re allowed to disagree.
And it’s these disagreements that make our conversations more robust. I've grown to understand that the fundamental impulses on both sides of the political spectrum have value. Liberals introduce us to new ideas; conservatives remind us of the wisdom of the past.
We may never agree on everything. But in order to have productive conversation, we need to start agreeing on something.
And if you look closer, you may find that we already do.
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