I have known, for 75 years, that I love spending time in the summer months on the coast of Maine in a small town. Everything about it is refreshing and different from living in New York City.
I now am discovering that it also clears the space and cobwebs between my ears and helps bring alive interesting thoughts and ideas that I had not plowed up before!
Since the November 2016 Presidential election we have all been facing a menacing picture of a tribally-driven society upsetting people everywhere, as it was way back in 1860 in the run up to the Civil War, when THE issue was basically slavery.
Many people now talk about how so many people who have so much good stuff in common (like simply being residents of the USA) can stumble into the seemingly inescapable trap that plays on a few differences that really are not at all basic to what we all do have in common.
To begin, about 10% of Americans were born abroad and another 30% have at least one grandparent born abroad. The overwhelming majority of us, of course, have forebearers who came to this country from elsewhere, differing only in how long ago the trek was made. How can it be possible that so many Americans, who owe their very existence as Americans to immigration, now want to pull up the ladder and stop such future immigration? I guess the answer is pretty simple—now that I am here I simply want to keep it as is! They seem to forget that it is people like them who made America like it is now, and if they change that process, America will not change and grow as it has in the past.
I know a father and daughter who have extreme disagreements over all aspects of Trump. They are both lawyers; both are bright and well educated, and stubborn. Obviously they have blood in common; culture in common and family bonds that often help bridge differences. The daughter is dutiful and despite her anger at her father she regularly helps him out. Put that story in your pipe and smoke out how that dichotomy arises and persists.
As one digs into what explains these differences in specific cases a few interesting things pop up.
Certainty vs doubt. Perhaps there are some people born to be certain about everything they think they see and others born to be cautiously doubtful. Doubt is essential throughout life because it protects us. If more people valued doubt, there obviously would be fewer people rigidly certain. The overall result could be that more people would realize that Mother Nature gave us two hands for good reasons—on the one and on the other?
Religion varies a lot. Some religions are more rigid than others. They all propagate beliefs and beliefs can become the basis of dogma. Dogma too often is a substitute for rational thought, and compels people into an Us vs. Them mentality that is not helpful to a pluralistic society.
Memory is essential – most of us know that if we do not remember history we are destined to repeat it. That assumes that we know some history in the first place. Some people who have ‘poor’ memories do not hesitate to contradict themselves, yet they are upset when they are contradicted.
Vocabulary is essential to communicating and thinking carefully and clearly. Some people are quite poor at this and do not recognize that another person who is both repetitive and simpleminded may not be making sense.
These four elements/characteristics of human process lie at the heart of how our population has been susceptible in recent times to what seems like tribalization which increasingly becomes divisive and hostile.
Most of us can survive with less than our share of good sense. Fewer of us can survive with less than our share of good luck. A lot of self-made people believe that they had both good sense AND good luck. They also have a tendency to appreciate other purely self-made people rather than people who used education and establishment values as their route to success in life.
How do we bridge these kinds of gaps which seem to be at the root of a lot of today’s misunderstandings?
First, it will not be easy or fast.
Second, we ALL have to be willing to try.
Last, we will need to be scared into it, either by the ramifications or by the sniffs of bloody conflict.