By Anne Martin
The world was watching as election results rolled in for the 46th President of the United States. On Saturday, November 7 Joe Biden was finally declared President Elect.
For some, the results brought relief and celebration. For others, the announcement brought deep disappointment, even anger as allegations of electoral irregularities were made.
One thing probably everyone can agree on is that right now the United States is a divided and hurting country.
What happens when a community, a country, a family is so divided? How can such division be addressed? Where do you start? What are realistic goals?
In his acceptance speech, President Elect Biden put the solution back to the American people:
“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again. And to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies. They are Americans. They are Americans.”
The political arena is set up to pit one party against another, one candidate against another. We are used to that. To winners and to losers.
Although the current situation in the United States is an obvious example of divisiveness highlighting many social issues, all of have experienced—or are perhaps currently experiencing—such community trials and tribulations. You may have a situation in your family, workplace, community group or church in which conflicting sides are taking up arms, ready to fight.
Biden’s call to not treat our opponents as enemies is critical for a community to address divisiveness. Enemies can become demonized. “We have to fight our enemies.” Enemies are disposable, worthy of “destruction.”
You may hear statements such as:
“They’re dangerous to our community and its values.”
“They don’t belong here.”
“Let’s get rid of them!”
“What about our children?”
There are times in a community’s life when differences of opinions feel like differences of core values. People ask: How can we be together when you think like that and I think like this?
We have constitutions, codes of conduct, and laws. Boundaries are drawn to define behaviour, to maximize the well-being of all within a certain cultural understanding of how we should be together.
Over time core values are sometimes challenged. It wasn’t until 1964 that women in Canada could open a bank account without their husband’s signature. The death penalty was in place in Canada until 1974.
When compromise feels impossible and division is the new norm, what can we do?
The place to begin is to talk. Better still, the place to begin is to listen.
We need to have conversations to really hear each other. To gain a common understanding. To not lose sight that the person with whom you disagree is also a human being. Just like you.
This is not easy. We are not used to listening to understand. We often want to set the other person right, to fix the situation, or make sure only we are heard. We condemn the other and declare ourselves the winners.
Listening to fix, correct, make our point and win the battle undermines trust in a relationship. “Why am I going to bother to talk to you if you never listen? If you just want to change me?”
If we invite those who think differently from us into a conversation based on listening to each other, we are saying “You have value as a human being. I want to know you better, to understand you better. I am so pleased you value me and want to know and understand me as well.”
In these times of division and uncertainty, what are the conversations you need to have? To whom do you need to listen? What’s at stake if you don’t? What’s to lose if you don’t listen to get to know someone and to understand them? What’s to gain if you do?
Anne Martin is the Director of Restorative Practice Services at Shalem and Director of Consulting Services for Shalem’s Centre For Workplace Engagement.