As troubling as it might be to hear the recent grandstanding by U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene advocating for a “national divorce”—splitting up America into separate red and blue countries—the truth is she’s not alone in her thinking. Many of our elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, are committed to the right/wrong divide and represent only those with whom they agree. We see this with local leaders as well, as our councils and boards nearly always stick to the party lines of their majority.
Actually, most Americans see things this way. According to a 2021 poll by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, more than half of both Trump voters and Biden voters strongly agree that elected officials from the opposing party present a “clear and present danger to American democracy.”
While President Donald Trump was in office, many on the left side of the political divide cried for secession of the liberal coastal states from the red middle. The same poll showed that 41 percent of Biden voters and 52 percent of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that things are so bad states should secede.
Is the solution to division more division? Almost certainly not. If not, how do we move forward together?
One of the most useful tools in my life for helping me build connection with others—everyone from my wife to people with whom I have fundamental disagreements on nearly every aspect of modern life—has been Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Rosenberg draws inspiration from the principals of nonviolence popularized by Ghandi to create tools for communicating in a nonviolent manner.
The book starts with the author asking, “What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature?” Applied to to our current situation, the answer might be something like: We fear that our way of life is being threatened, that fundamental needs—safety, community, self-expression, physical health, freedom, etc.—are in danger of not being met, and this triggers intense feelings and habitual reactions. We lash out. We put up defenses. We get violent with our language (or worse).
So, how do we reconnect? To oversimplify the book’s advice: Listen with empathy; speak honestly.
Going into any communication with the understanding that the person on the “other side” shares our same fundamental human needs, and responding without judgement while speaking our own truth (and not parroting a predetermined worldview), is the only way to create a connection. But both “sides” need to be conscious of the process and take part.
The only other choice is violence, in one form or another.