People tend to isolate themselves with others who think alike. But as we’ve learned from history, segregation is a dangerous trend.
A Democratic friend recently went to protest at a local appearance of the President.
Anyone going to a political rally representing the minority view shouldn’t expect a warm welcome. But my friend said she became frightened as she walked past some Bush supporters threatening to harm her.
Her experience raises the question: “How did we get here?” This is a person who was afraid in her community because of her political beliefs. Not only is this election bitterly divided, but this nation is deeply split and has been becoming more so for the last 30 years.
The problems go deeper than just politics, according to articles by Austin American Statesman columnist Bill Bishop and sociology professor Robert Cushing. Although the divide between Democrats and Republicans remains 50-50 nationally, local communities are increasingly in one camp or the other. From 1976 to 2000, Cushing concluded, partisan majorities had grown in eight of 10 U.S. counties. People are tending to live more with neighbors who think the same way.
And they tend to feed off one another’s similarities, making their worldview increasingly the same. Watch the next time you socialize with friends who think as you do. When the discussion gets political, you will inevitably become “shocked” by how thoughtless those in the other camp are. By the end of the conversation, no one will have learned very much. And, say Bishop and Cushing, this is happening throughout our country.
Segregation, whether it is racial, economic or political, is about insecurity. When we isolate ourselves with “like-minded” people, and decide that others are inferior, we have the illusion of safety. But in the long term, segregation increases our insecurity because we live in fear of others taking away our power.
Tomorrow, we will choose the man who will lead a country that is more divided than it has been in many years. The divisiveness is getting worse, and so is the anger. And we know from history that this trend is dangerous.
So how do we fix this?
As a mental-health professional, I know that some solutions are counterintuitive. When parents complain that their child fails to heed them, they need to first listen to their child. Parents can get more of what they want by becoming more compassionate.
I met such a parent in 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams. On a recent radio show, she described how she and other mothers had changed the climate in Northern Ireland:
When I asked about what she did, her answer was simple: “Everything. We had the worst economy in all of Europe and understood that we had to do something about economic hardship. Because violence cannot be simply stopped, it must be replaced with something. So we had to improve the economy.” In 1978, she and other women went to the biggest crafts exhibition in Europe carrying samples of what they do best in Northern Ireland – linens, sweaters, etc. They returned home with more than $4 million worth of orders and offered Catholics jobs only if they would work with Protestants and vice versa. And so the process began. Williams and the other women mothered their country back to health.
Our country is not as violent as Northern Ireland. But there is a growing segregation that could be disastrous. So who will guide us back to health?
Betty Williams thinks like a mother and takes responsibility to help the healing process. We all should. Starting tomorrow.