Getting to 50 Shades of Purple
by Molly Clark
"It is well documented that Americans are ever more divided: along party, ideological, socio-economic and cultural lines; by geographic, demographic, racial and religious differences. Our political polarization hampers our ability to tackle important national issues, whether immigration, infrastructure, timely budgeting or closing Guantánamo. The recent government shutdown and the looming threat of another underscore this problem." --Susan E. Rice, former Ambassador to the United Nations, New York Times January 25, 2018
"We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” --Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
One of the most heartbreaking and maddening examples of our national divisions was the recent shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last week, and the reactions to it. Heartbreaking, because 17 more innocent school children and adults were murdered in the 18th school shooting this year – not even a full 2 months into 2018. Maddening, because both citizens and lawmakers in our nation seem so paralyzed by internal rifts, fears and demonizing of the “other” guys that we won’t or can’t take productive steps together, even to protect America’s children.
Our differences are literally destroying us from within. It is not mysterious or unforeseen. Madison, Hamilton and other Founding Fathers foresaw over 200 years ago that the biggest threat to America’s strength would come from within: putting our individual, group and party interests ahead of national unity. In George Washington’s farewell address as President, he gave us this warning: that democracy in the U.S. will die unless we continue to value unity above narrow interests and parties. It is well worth reading and maybe even memorizing his entire speech, but here is an excerpt:
[Y] our union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.
These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire.
…In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. [my emphasis]
In terms of our national divisions, it no longer matters who started it. It has become a national sickness that has infected all of us. There are politicians and groups use the word “unity”— President Trump, the Tea Party, Indivisible, Red to Blue—but they render the word meaningless by their goals and their actions. They continue to vilify their opponents and define success as “I win, you lose”.
Happily, there is a growing movement of people and organizations that are working to cure the divisiveness that ails us. Groups like No Labels, the Congressional Problem-Solvers Caucus, Living Room Conversations, Better Angels. And us, Neto Community Network.
In 2012, a small group of us in the San Francisco Bay Area created Neto Community Network as a vehicle to work toward greater social and economic equity in the U.S., starting at the local and personal level. Our mission is to provide pathways for people to connect, learn and act toward greater equity.
Connect because trust, cooperation and unity are both the foundation and the ultimate aim of a safe, secure and equitable society, a thriving democracy and a prosperous economy.
Learn because we Americans need to sharpen up our critical thinking skills to be able to “shield ourselves against the jealousies and heatburnings which spring from misrepresentations”.
Act because, as Susan Rice put it in her opinion piece cited above, “We need to demand leaders who aim to unite, rather than divide us.”
What does this look like in practice?
· In everything Neto and our members do, we try to model mutual respect and, as Dr. Harry Stack Sullivan put it, an appreciation that “we are all much more simply human than otherwise”.
· We build a community of people from all backgrounds, political affiliations and beliefs who share the values of cooperation, fair play and recognition of human dignity.
· We learn about and expose ourselves and others to important issues that affect us all, and encourage us all to figure out what is true, not what we want to believe.
· We find, train and support leaders who connect people, rather than divide them.
Problems such as the mass murder of innocent children and adults in the U.S. are literally killing us. If we are ever going to solve them, we first need to stop thinking of ourselves as the “Reds” against the “Blues”. We need to put an end to our “zero sum” mindset, to vanquish our opponents before they beat us. We need to open our minds and our hearts. Neither you nor I are cartoon enemies. We are complex people with complex views and similar values. And our survival as a nation depends upon your and my ability to become unifying patriots and act on the conviction that in the U.S. we are 50 shades of purple.