This post has been hard to put together, there is so many divisive actions and words shared everyday that the divide I'm trying to write about isn't easy to describe and the thought of even trying to cross the ever widening divide looks bleaker by the day. Everyone seems to have already dug their trenches and demanding that everyone pick a side.

An attempt to picture our divide...

I was trying to think of a good example of what it's like to try to engage with people and ideas in our divided culture and there just isn't anything like it.

I tried to imagine that there are 2 sides entrenched on two different mountaintops with a valley in between. There is a lot of agreement among the people found on each mountaintop that they indeed have found the right hill to dwell on. Engaging with the "wrong" mountaintop dwellers would involve a lot of screaming from the mountaintop with the hopes that those wrong people on the other side would finally listen. Maybe, if they heard my screams they would recognize their wrongness and come to the side of righteousness. Really, it would all end up being a lot of noise without much productivity. Two sides yelling at one another about how the other hill sucks and their own hill is the best. But even this hopeless description isn't good enough.

The valley between the mountains must also be swampland with any dry land covered with thicket. And if you were lucky enough to make it to the halfway point between these two mountaintops in the valley of swampland and thickets you would meet a wall with a door. A sign would be posted on each side of the wall that states that you may enter if and only if you agree to unconditional surrender. Otherwise, there can be no working together, no real discourse, and no real unity. The only starting point to working together is that you first agree that everything you believe is wrong.

This is where we are. The thicket in the valley continues to grow with every lie shared and every barb thrown.

The thicket grows as the list of essentials for people continue to grow to the point that there is no nuance. As the demand for ideological purity grows so does the divide between us.

So what do we do? How do we find any real unity? How do we find peace?

How is it possible to work together to find real solutions that we face together?

At this point we have a choice. We can stay on our chosen mountaintop with people who look like us, echo back to us the things we already believe, and vilify the other side. We can scream at those who have chosen the "wrong" mountaintop and demand that they admit just how wrong they are. We will demand that they bow to our way since it's the right way.

-OR-

We can choose to take the arduous journey down the mountain, into the valley that divides us, cut through the thicket, and break down the wall that separates us.

Come On Down

In order to cross the divide and start meeting in the messy middle {aka real life} we have to do some work. You can't be unified and work together while we stand on own mountaintop and demand others meet us. We all have to move into the valley. To do that we need to:
1) Give up ideological purity.
2) Leave our echo chambers.
3) Stop using language that seeks only to tear down.
4) Stop sharing "news" or other websites that exist solely to mislead or spread outright lies.
5) Start conversations with people different from you with the intention to LISTEN and UNDERSTAND. That means asking lots of questions and not seeking to start/win an argument.
6) Show some damn empathy.

Now, crossing the divide is very different from healing the divide. Crossing the divide involves personal reflection and eventually confession if I find that I've done harm to others in the positions/actions I've taken or with the words I've used. Healing the divide would require me to do the work of restoration, to work to make things right.

But before we get to healing, I'm going to explore the 6 steps to crossing the divide listed above in my next post.

An important disclaimer...

I've been sitting on this post for a week. I believe in what I've wrote but I don't think it's completely applicable to everyone and everything. There comes a time when we can't listen anymore and action must be taken.

The oppressor cannot demand the oppressed to listen to them or to show empathy to their ideas. This call to listen and empathize cannot be used by people looking to spread ideologies that are sexist or racist. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to listen to our friends and family who express racist/sexist ideologies, because we should seek to know them and love them while rejecting and speaking out against their ideologies.

I have friends and family with whom I hold deep disagreements about everything from politics to theology to sports affiliations (I'm looking at you OSU fans). Some people in my circles even express and believe things that I believe to be harmful or hateful. It would do us all good to not be afraid to engage in conversation with those people in our lives, seeking to understand them while also standing against anything hateful.

But I want to be clear again, I don't advocate that the oppressed be forced to engaged with the oppressor. It's too much to ask. I would ask that all of us engage those in our lives who hold to oppressive ideas if you yourself are not oppressed by them. Stand with those that are more vulnerable than you are.

I also say this knowing that even the definition of what is hateful or harmful is debated. However, I think we would do well to at least start by taking on the things that are not debatable.

To Join the Conversation

Do you agree with me? Think I'm an idiot? Head over to Facebook and let me know. :)

Head over the Facebook page and contribute to the conversation! Do you think this is enough to start dealing with the divide? Do you think the divide can be crossed? Lastly, does there come a point where listening and empathizing isn't enough, where action must be taken? If so, when?