If you haven’t noticed we’re a deeply divided country these days. Politics in Washington grows more and more acrimonious by the day and it seems like we are out of touch with the desires, wants and needs of people who live in the cities, states and communities near us. Heck, we seem to disagree with our neighbors, friends and family members on just about everything.
It feels lonely and disconcerting, like there’s little tying us together as Americans anymore, save for a love of sports, money and Hollywood blockbusters.
Even though our country has been divided before — does anyone remember the Civil War? — this type of animosity and dig-you-heels-in-and-defend-your-party-at-all-costs mentality is new to many of us. The worst part is that many of feel powerless to do anything about it. Sure, you can join a grass roots group and hope its fervor remains. You can donate money to causes that you believe in. You can even try to run for political office.
For me, and maybe for many of you, I have neither the time nor a lot of money to do those things. What I’m trying to do is something a little simpler, cheaper and, hopeful, more rewarding for all.
I’m trying to smile at people. Radical, right?
It takes so little effort to look someone in the eye and wish them a happy day or to simply say hi. When we as a people are divided along strict party or political lines we might feel reluctant to engage in conversation with someone. What if they don’t agree with me, we might think? What if they want to begrudge me my opinion or take issue with my beliefs. Should we let them dictate our behavior or intimidate us from being kind? I don’t think so.
Even if someone disagrees with us or feels the opposite that we do on a hot button political issue does that define them? Does it define us? Sure, some people only see the world through the prism of one particular issue but most people, I believe, understand nuance and context and will refrain from judging you solely on that one issue. Either way, we must begin — in our own ways — to try and find common ground with our fellow man. If we don’t, we’re in for a very long few years.
I’m not sure what the origins of this dissatisfaction are. Surely it’s been going on since the earliest days of our union when Thomas Jefferson’s Republicans vehemently opposed actions by Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists. This is not a new story in the history of America. But this type and depth of polarization may feel new to many of us. We know there are things that we can do about it. One of the easiest is to simply be nice to people and try, with a smile, to make our day and theirs a bit brighter.