It's 3:30 am. The house is still and quiet except for my husband's steady snoring on the bed behind me and the clattering of my keyboard keys as I type. I wish that I was asleep, curled up next to him and our dogs. However, I awoke with an urgency to write. I tried to push it down, close my eyes, and fall back to blissful unconsciousness. But the pressure only grew, spreading from my heart into my fingers. I knew there would be no rest until I laid out what has been heavy on my heart.
Like so many of you, I have been concerned and heartbroken by our country's tumultuous state. The past year has only served to spotlight the division, which has been growing within our nation for years. In many ways, my marriage is a microcosm of that great divide. My husband and I exist on opposite ends of the political spectrum. To say that this election year has been strained in our house would be an understatement. We have tried to erect a firewall and avoid all political conversations, but that has become increasingly difficult. The issues at stake are so important, and our views and opinions are so strong on those issues that staying quiet feels like a betrayal of our beliefs. Certain words are sure to trigger a rousing "debate" between us; words like 'Trump,' 'Portland,' and 'pandemic' are off-limits according to our kids, who are tired of hearing the same old arguments from us.
We are disconnected on a deep level and have each gravitated towards groups of like-minded people. Sometimes you just want to be heard and understood. You don't want to have to defend your position or argue the merits of your beliefs. You want the comfort of someone to understand. And so it begins, the quiet and insipid seduction of sameness.
What we are experiencing here on a micro-scale is happening all over the country on a massive level; more and more people are leaving the public debate and sequestering themselves among others who are like them. It isn't only one side doing this; it is all the sides. We are taking our toys and going home, so to speak. We are segregating ourselves more and more.
Relationships that were prized above politics are now torn apart; husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, and loyal friends have vilified each other. Those relationships are replaced with a cacophony of like voices on social media and the news outlets we choose to believe. We have exchanged relationships for echo chambers, and the divides between us grow.
The draw to sameness is strong. It is reassuring; it is comforting, and it is toxic. A look back at our not so distant history teaches us the dangers of segregating ourselves. The Jim Crow years and the hard battle for civil rights and racial equality should have taught us how devastating it is to surround ourselves with only those who think like or look like us. When we only hear our own thoughts and opinions repeated back to us, we develop an us versus them mentality. The "us" is always right, even righteous, and the them is always wrong, even "evil."
We all want to be understood; to have our opinions valued and validated. We are tired of proving our point and arguing our position, of hearing the rhetoric of the "other side." It is so much easier to vent to those who agree with us.
But we forget the fundamental truth of life; real relationships take work. They are not always easy. Most of the time, they are challenging on some level. But it is that tension, that struggle, and that hard work that causes us to grow together. This process changes us as people and helps us grow in our compassion and understanding.
Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." We need each other to grind off the rough edges and to sharpen and focus us. Yes, there is a seduction to the ease of sameness. In the difficult struggle to understand those unlike us and the fight for their understanding, we will change ourselves and our nation.