“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth.” - President Barack Obama, 11/7/12
Early this morning, President Barack Obama was re-elected for another four years as Commander in Chief of the United States of America. Whether you are celebrating this as a victory, or mourning it as a disappointment (for Americans, it’s split halfway), we all share the perspective of watching the dust settle, and the election circus pack up and move on.
What do we see before us now?
Many will say, divisiveness.
All night, pundits and reporters showcased an array of infographics and interactive maps, illustrating several layers of red/blue division. East/West versus Middle, urban versus non-urban, and even within highly contested counties, nail-biting anxiety of 50/50 splits where individual votes made the difference. With a popular vote split straight down the center, the people have spoken: we are a country of no majority.
The past four years have shown us, in heartbreaking ways, how damaging this divisiveness can be. Failure to collectively develop and support health reform means we continue to exponentially outspend the world on healthcare costs, while some American populations are as sick as those in developing countries. Failure of a congressional debt committee to negotiate a long-term debt crisis solution means now we face sequestration, a single $1.2 trillion budget cut this January that threatens to cripple our defense as well as non-defense spending crucial to our everyday well-being.
In the four years ahead of us, our differences will remain constant, and may even intensify. Our Constitution will continue to be tested, our definition of “we the people” will expand, and our definition of democracy will come under scrutiny the faster it spreads abroad.
But what can change – and must change - is our perception and treatment of our differences. This means a conscious decision to trade in the notion of ‘divisiveness’ for ‘diversity’.
Diversity means being patient, rational, and calm with one another. It means not scowling when you encounter an ‘opposition’ member walking down your block, and not leaving nasty comments when you see opposing views in the comments of a blog post. It means not calling people ‘idiots’, not sensationalizing one-off stories to stoke anger towards a sub-group, and not demonizing a policy or viewpoint before you have explored it in detail.
Diversity implies discourse, but it requires being intelligent in that discourse.
Diversity does not mean accepting someone else’s views, or expecting they will bend to yours. In fact, diversity makes it all the more important that you know what you belief, what you stand for, what you consider just and unjust. In diversity there is disagreement. In diversity we do not always understand each other, or like each other, or accept each other’s lifestyles and opinions. But in diversity, we still treat each other as fellow Americans. As equal citizens. As people with as much a right to their beliefs as we have to ours.
We have just elected a President and a Congress to take the lead in creating, revising, and upholding laws that manage to balance the diverse beliefs of our population with the basic human rights promised and protected by our constitution. Our country has been here before, at the contentious split of a no-majority nation. We have suffered and benefitted as a result. A destructive civil war brought about the end of slavery. Lynchings, assassinations, and violence were results of the same struggle that established civil rights.
Can unification only come after the concessions of bitter battle? Or are we capable of evolving as a society, to the point where we can find unity in diversity?
The heart and soul of American greatness – and the key that any world nation requires to be a successful 21st century power – is our capacity to welcome, foster, and manage diversity. It is when we choose to see divisiveness, instead of diversity, that we fall apart.
What do you see before you today?
The choice is yours to make, today and everyday.