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Is America Polarized?

“Polarization affects families and groups of friends. It’s a paralyzing situation. A civil war of opinion.” ~ Mick Jagger

Polarization

It is almost the end of 2020 and I ask, “Is America Polarized?” Polarization in 2020 and the last decade has become the norm rather than the exception. It was never clearer than in the 2020 presidential election. The 2020 election was a clear sign that we vote based on polarized factions. So, what is polarization and why have we become so polarized. Merriam Webster defines it as “a state in which the opinions, beliefs, or interests of a group or society no longer range along a continuum but become concentrated at opposing extremes.” Our society today has become polarized not just in the political sense. We are polarized about almost all societal questions that face us:

The right to vote

Equality

Justice

Education opportunities

Access to Health Care

etc.

We have become so polarized around these and other issues that we are afraid to bring up the subjects for discussion and dialogue. Ezra Klein’s Book, “Why we are Polarized”, discusses political polarization and blames it in part on the media. Most of listen to the news pundits that we agree with, thus reinforcing our positions. Other polarizing factors he identifies are political Identities-Black Lives Matter, pay equity, abortion, and campaign financing laws. We need to reduce our confidence in our beliefs about the other party so we can become open to change.

Can we change?

However, even Mr. Klein notes we can change and break down the barriers of polarization. To do so, we need to change our framework of understanding. We need to work at this if we are open to returning to “I’m an American First.” Dan Stone expands on Klein’s book by saying Klein has left much out. He has left out the impact of unmotivated biases, overconfidence, uncertainty, or intellectual humility. These are a part of the picture that Klein hasn’t considered. We need to reduce confidence in our beliefs of what the other party believes to change. “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” (Darwin) and “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” (Aristotle). 

5 Things you should do to help us be Americans first.

We are Americans before we are anything else. I am a Democrat, but the first lens I apply is this good for America. I am an individual, but the first lens I apply is this good for America. This is the hardest change we need to make in order to return to the country of all instead of me and you. 

First, you need to examine your framework or lens – Ask yourself why I disagree? What do they really believe? Why do I think their actions and beliefs are wrong? Do I need to change? How can I change?

Try to understand other points of view- Listen to a different news source from time to time. Is there any truth in what they say? Can I agree with some of what they say?

Engage in dialogue with those you disagree with- Dialogue is something we have forgotten how to do. You speak and listen to what they say. Ask questions for clarity to identify commonalities. And you agree to disagree when necessary without demonizing the others.

Keep your eye on the ball- We have many internal problems to fix in our democracy. It will take all people working together to fix them and build a stronger America.

Look past the name calling and empty rhetoric and find the common ground. I may not like what you do, but you are still an American. 

“Any classification according to a singular identity polarizes people in a particular way, but if we take note of the fact that we have many different identities – related not just to religion but also to language, occupation and business, politics, class and poverty, and many others – we can see that the polarization of one can be resisted by a fuller picture. So, knowledge and understanding are extremely important to fight against singular polarization.” ~ Amartya Sen