Have We Become Hopelessly Divided?

In the midst of policy upheavals and political boxing among party lines, I decided to hit the ground with some one-on-one discussions with voters, one who voted for Donald Trump and one who did not. Given the ever apparent divide in our country, I wanted to know if there is any real hope for unity among the people themselves. Could, for example, cross-cultural communication work? To help answer this question, I listened to the viewpoints of two American women.

The two women were of similar age, ethnicity, background, and identified with the Christian faith. Their policy concerns included the following with varying emphases: immigration (national security and the “need for order”), support for the military (one came from a military family), abortion (both are pro-life), and social justice (recognition of “rights for all”). What was evident throughout the two discussions was not so much each woman’s policy concerns but their interpretations of biblical verses and their role as a Christian. For example, pointing to a particular verse in the bible, one interpretation was that through prayer God will equip President Trump with the ingredients to lead the United States, and that eventually through the medium of prayer our land would be healed by God. The other viewpoint on the same verse emphasized that while prayer (and prayer for Trump) is necessary, people must also take action to ensure that justice for all is being served, irrespective of the leader. Justice in this case meant standing up for the marginalized and is grounded in the values that Jesus promoted: love and peace.

With respect to abortion, for example, both are pro-life but their approach to lowering rates of or eliminating abortion varied. One emphasized the Supreme Court – the law – and the Republican Party as entities with the power to instill pro-life rules, while the other believed in getting involved in communities at the grassroots level as a means to impact abortion rates. The latter went further to cite that abortion rates was not lowered under Republican George Bush junior, and entities such as the Supreme Court should not have the power to rule over such an issue – because that would be placing too much stake and faith in parties and structures versus the values promoted by God, and the people.

These two interpretations represent two very different approaches. One is more reliant on the political structure and its mechanisms of top down governing versus the other of a more community, people-driven nature to foster change. This difference can be attributed to a key factor that became evident throughout the interviews, further distinguishing between the two approaches: cross-cultural and inter-faith interaction.

Both are well traveled and recognized that each person has value. One divines through strong religious beliefs and the power of prayer that God will ultimately take care of the faithful. The other added a dimension to her divine belief by consistently interacting with groups of other backgrounds, faiths, and beliefs. Over time, this person experienced an attitudinal shift, enough to claim she learned “everything” about hospitality from an immigrant family. Through these experiences she realized that faith is not only defined by praying to any particular higher power but rather by showing values of love and understanding toward one another – this is what it means to be a people and a nation of faith.

As members of our families, communities, and society at large, we can use our beliefs in the form of prayers or by other means to inspire others to have a positive effect on the world. It is, however, necessary to consistently test our own theories and interpretations, particularly in times of division and ensuing chaos. For any form of cross-cultural communication to work, we must begin by remaining open – not limited – to listening and being with those outside of our circle of like-minded individuals. We must become more vigilant by stepping out of our comfort zones, our own righteousness, in order to learn about others through first-hand experience. Without this kind of primary experience with the cultures and faiths that surround us, we risk becoming prisoners within the confines of our own beliefs which we feel are protecting and guiding us. Most especially we risk becoming divided by the manipulations, perspectives, and fear-mongering of officials, media outlets, organized groups based on hate, and those seeking a cleansing process of diversity, for the benefit of a few and at the expense of the rest.

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