When did we start hating each other?
I used to like Facebook. I like to keep in touch with family members. I enjoy seeing former student’s wedding and baby pictures. I love keeping in touch with former colleagues and friends who now live in far flung places. I like looking at Facebook first thing in the morning, when it tells me who is celebrating a birthday. I like sending birthday greetings; it starts my day off on a positive note.
I can barely look at Facebook now. We have become divisive and angry. Posts are political rants from both sides of the aisle and often full of unsubstantiated “facts.” While we can usually count on our shared loved of a sports team to bring us together, even sports have now become an issue that divides us-you are with the kneelers or against them. Facebook posts have reduced a complex issue involving racial injustice, love of country, first amendment rights and supporting veterans into an issue with only two sides- right or wrong.
It is a far more complex issue. What seems black or white to most people is really full of gray. But people don’t talk. They don’t listen to what others have to say or what they think. I don’t believe that anything anyone posts on Facebook is going to change the mind of anyone with opposing beliefs. We are preaching to the choir. If you don’t believe that, ask how many people you know have unfriended people with opposing beliefs.
We don’t want to discuss issues. We want to be right. We dig in our heels. When our heels are digging tightly to our sacred ground, we can’t move forward. We are stuck, a house divided.
Abraham Lincoln is widely quoted as saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Actually, the original speaker of those words was Jesus, as quoted in the gospel of Mark. It is a warning to humanity.
We have become a house divided against itself.
I was feeling rather hopeless. Then I read Brené Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness. Brown is a social worker, research professor at the University of Houston, and popular author of several New York Times best -selling books.
In her new book, which is about courage and what it means to belong in an age of polarization, there is a chapter with the title: Hold Hands. With Strangers.
My first reaction?
Not. Going. To. Happen.
Brown says that the key to coexisting is to maintain our belief that there is something greater than us, that we are all connected to something rooted in love and compassion. When that belief breaks down, it is easy to hate from afar those who don’t believe what we believe, to dehumanize others and to retreat to our bunkers. We stay in our factions, a house divided.
The answer, according to Brown, is to “Show up for collective moments of joy and pain so we can actually bear witness to inextricable human connection.” She offers examples such as attending church even though people there might believe differently than you do, attending a concert and sharing a common love for the music, and attending a funeral, where even though you may not know or understand the rituals involved, you know your presence matters.
Ironically, this book came out just as the hurricane devastated Brown’s home town of Houston. We all watched as people of all races, creeds and political beliefs rushed in to help, often working side by side. It was evidence of a deep connection to our human existence.
I was reminded of September 11th and how we, as a nation, came together through collective tragedy. I will never forget crying with my students as we watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center. Can you ever forget where you were and who you were with that day? As we watched the horrific events unfold, we felt a connection to those in the room with us, and to those all across the country.
There are examples of connections through positive events as well. I love the new Iowa Hawkeye tradition of stopping at the end of the first quarter of a football game to wave at the children in the nearby University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. It is not a Republican gesture or a Democratic gesture, it is a humanitarian gesture.
I haven’t been to Kinnick stadium to wave at children, but I understand the sense of shared humanity. It is what makes me feel like crying when I sing Varsity with all of the other alums at a University of Wisconsin Basketball game. As we wave our hands in the air, we collectively think of our college days, our friends, the connections we made and the learning that changed the trajectories of our lives.
We need to look for these collective moments of shared joy and pain, what Brown calls “lightening in a bottle.” Shared moments of humanity connect us and have the power to transcend what divides us. It is time to look for and participate in those lightening in a bottle moments, to feel collective humanity. “We need these moments with strangers,” Brown says, “As reminders that despite how much we might dislike someone on Facebook or even in person, we are still inextricably connected.”
There are days I want to shelter myself from the world. It is hard to walk in divisiveness, when even a simple family gathering has the potential to become filled with anger and hate. But now, more than ever, this is not the time to retreat.
It is time to find our shared humanity, a collective sense that together, we are stronger and better than we are alone. It is what Anne Frank knew when despite the horrors of the holocaust, she wrote in her diary, “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
It is a time to laugh and cry with others.
It is a time to hold hands with strangers.
What about you? Have you found moments of collective humanity? I’d love to hear your stories.