In a year where “unprecedented” is undoubtedly the word of the year and clarity is in short supply, one thing that is clear is just how close the 2020 elections were. We’ve known for years Americans were bitterly divided along political and ideological lines. We’ve felt that acutely this year. All you need do is look around to see it. However, we are now receiving tangible numbers that show us just how stark it actually is.
While the final numbers aren’t entirely in as I write this, it appears the popular vote will split somewhere within 2-3 points of 50 percent—Biden Harris receiving approx 78 million votes and Trump Pence approx 73 million votes. Both of those are overwhelmingly historic numbers in their own right, but come January, Congress will be even more closely divided as well.
In the House, Americans voted to decrease the Democrat majority by at least seven seats. While in the Senate we voted to narrow the majority of Republicans by at least one seat and the potential tie breaking vote of a Vice President Harris. Neither one flips control of the body yet, but control of the Senate will be up for grabs in two runoff elections in Georgia this coming January (my sympathies to Georgians).
Between the presidential numbers and Americans voting to even more closely split the Congress, it’s clear our government is reflecting the reality of the political divide in America.
There are a few different ways this can be interpreted. Republicans will undoubtedly interpret it for Republicans’ benefit and Democrats will undoubtedly interpret it for Democrats’ benefit because, politics. What I want to focus on here, however, is not how the respective party’s will spin it for their own political gain, but what it means for you and I as we move forward from this election.
I’m going to let you in on a secret politicians don’t want you to know…
You have far more power and influence over the direction of the next four years than any Representative, Senator, or President ever will.
For all the talk and promises politicians make, we know government often moves at the pace of a stoned sloth. It takes years just to make incremental progress… and we usually get the munchies along the way. Anyone who’s ever been to the DMV knows this is undeniable . However, we as individuals—business owners, students, employees, teachers, parents, children, friends, neighbors, etc.—make decisions every day that have the power to massively shift the future. Maybe not in tax policy, immigration, or national defense, but in a way that shapes the conversations around them. In the way in which we talk to each other about them.
In a nation so clearly divided, the choices we make every day in how we talk, react, and act have the power to do one of two things: unite or divide, build up or tear down, accept or reject.
For the last four years—longer if we’re being honest with ourselves—the discourse in our nation has become so toxic we’ve largely lost our ability to have the uncomfortable, hard conversations our democratic republic demands we have. Both parties bare the brunt of the blame, but it’s us—the people—who bare the consequences. Examples of this politically are the response to the racial tension over the summer and the handling of the pandemic. No matter your political affiliation, we all agree that we desperately needed to pass relief aid for unemployed Americans due to COVID-19. Common sense police reform and social justice issues properly discussed and debated in the legislature could’ve quelled much of the tension, and perhaps lead to real racial reconciliation. Instead, however, we descended further into partisan bickering, a legislative stalemate, riots, looting, and name calling.
But on the societal plain, we’ve seen this political toxicity and hatred spill into our everyday interactions. The best example of this is social media—the “bathroom wall of the internet” as my favorite political commentator calls it. Anyone who has a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram knows this well. We’ve allowed ourselves to be conditioned by media and politicians to look at and talk to each other through the lens of party and politics and it’s destroyed our ability to have civil discourse—whether it be on something as crucial as foreign policy or as easy as wearing a mask.
So how do we change that? How do we choose unity over division, building up rather than tearing down, acceptance instead of rejection in the moment to moment choices we make in how we interact with each other—whether online or hopefully in person again one day soon? While entire books can and have been written on just this, I’ve narrowed it down to just a few key points that—if we can put into practice—I think we’ll be well on our way. Let’s take a look.
1. Recognize it’s up to us.
Politicians are never (or at least not anytime soon) going to restore unity, positivity, or acceptance—divisiveness is far too expedient and they’re (generally) far too narcissistic for them to even want to try. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the days of politicians as moral leaders in America are dead. Maybe one day, if we’re lucky and we work hard, they’ll be resurrected. Until then, it’s up to you and I. Which, if you ask me (and this is my article, so you are), is how it should be anyway. Are you willing to put in the work?
2. There are a lot of us who need to apologize.
I say “us” because I include myself in that. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can all admit apologizing is something we’re pretty terrible at doing. It involves two things everyone hates, admitting we’re wrong and then admitting that to other people.
I’ve tried to stay away from commenting on politics as much as possible over the past year, but I also know there have been times when I did post about politics on Facebook or Twitter. There have also been times I know I’ve unfairly characterized or generalized about a person, a policy, or a party I disagree with. That was wrong. I was wrong. It didn’t help to further the discussion, and I’m sorry.
Apologizing doesn’t necessarily mean we’re saying the views we hold are wrong—though sometimes it will and should—it just means the way we went about conveying them was wrong. Especially during this season of social distancing where our human interaction is even less than it normally is, it’s so easy to dehumanize the person on the other side of the Twitter handle or Facebook account. We have to remember they’re just that—a person.
3. It’s not going to happen overnight… and that’s okay.
Just because we apologize (assuming an apology is made) doesn’t mean healing immediately takes place. This is a truth we could all stand to learn in every area of our life. Apologizing is just the beginning of the healing process. It’s a process that takes both sides, and sometimes—especially if it’s a deep wound—it takes one person a little longer than the other. We need to learn to be okay with that.
In our case, elections are always contentious times, that’s nothing new. But without our ability to calmly yet passionately discuss our views, that contentiousness has seeped into our everyday life for the past 4-6 years. The incessant name calling, hyperbolic generalizing, and personal attacks we used to reserve only for election season has left no room for healing—no matter how loud we yell for it. If we truly want healing we need to tamp down the rhetoric, apologize, give some room for healing to begin, and put personal effort in showing we want things to be different.
It’s important to advocate for our closely held views, yes, but not every opinion needs arguing. I don’t have evidence, but I’m pretty sure no one’s mind has ever been changed by a passive aggressive, sarcastic tweet… and that’s coming from a guy who’s love language is sarcasm.
4. “Seek first to understand then be understood.” -Stephen R. Covey
This was one of my grandfather’s favorite quotes and now I understand why. I truly believe if we, you and me, can master this one skill we can transform the way we interact with each other not just in politics, but in every area of our lives.
How many times have you been in an argument where the other person yelled back at you about something you just said to them only, what they said isn’t at all what you said or meant? Or maybe you were the one yelling back? I think we can all admit to being on both sides of this situation more than a few times. Now, what you said and what they heard might be equally offensive, but often when we’re in the heat of an argument or discussing something we’re passionate about we tend to only hear the response we’re expecting to get. We’ve constructed a predetermined argument in our mind and stick with it even when it doesn’t match what the person is actually saying.
We’re listening to respond instead of listening to understand.
It’s something I’ve never quite understood about people who think we shouldn’t read or watch or listen to certain ideas—namely, cancel culture. How do you expect to have a firm foundation under what you believe if you’ve never been exposed to other points of view besides what you’re told of them? You might think you know what someone’s views are on a given subject, but until you seek to understand not just what their views are but why their views are, your both better off talking to a sheet of paper with talking points written on it rather than an actual person.
It’s in the understanding why that we discover common goals and are willing to find cooperative compromise that creates a path to meeting those goals.
There’s so much more we could talk about in learning to seek first to understand, but I think that’s a pretty good start. If you want to go deeper, I’d encourage you to check out The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. You won’t regret it, I promise.
Here’s the bottom line…
the reality is you have a neighbor who voted for Biden. You have a family member who voted for Trump. The person who sits next to you in church (socially distanced, of course) supports a Democrat Senator. Your best friend filled in the bubble for a Republican Comgresswoman. But because politics has become such a toxic cesspool of vitriol and hatred you wouldn’t know that because it’s just too big of a risk to talk about it. That’s sad.
I say it’s time to take a risk!
Ask your uncle his views on that topic that’s been on your mind all week. Talk to your neighbor about why the kids should or shouldn’t go back to school. Make a lighthearted, self deprecating political joke with the person you see at church to break the ice and open the door for relationship. And if you can’t talk openly with your best friend about who and why they voted for who they did, are they really your best friend?
You may think this all sounds a bit naive and simple, and maybe it is. But maybe we need some naivety and simplicity. Maybe it’s time we get back to the basics and go from there. I truly believe if we put into practice these four points I’ve outlined above—accept it’s up to us, apologize when we’re wrong or said something the wrong way, give room for healing to begin, and seek first to understand then be understood—the truth is, we’re really not taking a risk at all. We might be initially met with some resistance, but eventually the way in which we talk about our views will begin to break down the barriers others have put up. And then we can begin having the deep, meaningful discussions our nation so desperately needs to have. It doesn’t mean we’re always going to see eye to eye on everything. Sometimes we just see it differently and that’s okay. When we do encounter those areas, though, we’ll be able to preserve the relationships first, navigate them well, and find our way forward—together.
Well, those are my remARCs. I hope they in some way, big or small, might have resonated with you. Whether it made you laugh, cry (I hope not too much), smile, or maybe think about life from a different perspective, I hope you take something away from this article that makes your day even the slightest bit better. I’d love to hear your remARCs as well. Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment on the My RemARCs Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages… unless you hated it. In which case, why are you even still reading this? Hope to see you back here soon. Until then, be well and live remARCably.