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Closing the Divide

The continuing deep divisions within US society have been on the forefront of my mind recently. As I listen to, and observe, what is happening across this nation, I want to delve deeper. What is sustaining these entrenched divisions and how we can move forward? How do we heal as a nation?

The divisions in our society today have eroded our trust in one another and in our civic institutions. When we divide ourselves into different groups, we begin to see our world through different and polarized lenses. The way we view the world impacts the way we think about our world, and each other. If we always view things through a polarized lens then that is all the world will ever be to us. One side pitted against the other in a toxic political environment. And so, we end up where we are now, with a deeply divided nation. So how do we overcome this?

In order to heal, we need to understand the psychological factors which drive us apart. It begins with the creation of ‘in’ groups, groups which share common beliefs and values. Unfortunately, when a conflict takes hold these common values and beliefs become more entrenched leading to tunnel vision. In a report published by Beyond Conflict, “America’s Divided Mind: Understanding the Psychology that Drives Us Apart,” there is discussion of a core feature of polarized psychology, that it distorts the way our brains processes information about society.

When such political polarization occurs, as we have seen over the last number of years in US society, it can deeply divide our society. We see the opposite side as somewhat alien to us. We hold incredibly negative views and beliefs about the ‘other’ which colors our whole perception of them. This sets into motion other destructive beliefs such as the belief that the ‘other’ cannot be reasoned with and that all on that ‘side’ are the same. There is no room for nuance in this polarized world. Before we realize it, our dislike of the ‘other’ deepens to the point of dehumanization. We no longer see the ‘other’ as an equal. When we become so entrenched in our thinking the result is a toxic environment for all. 

Dehumanization is dangerous. It happens when we perceive others as less than us, less than human. Dehumanization is what fuels conflict, atrocities and genocides. What happened in Nazi Germany leading to WWII was the result of dehumanization, Jewish people were viewed as lesser, persecuted and murdered. In Rwanda, dehumanization led to a genocide which shocked the world with common descriptions of the persecuted people being ‘vermin’ or ‘cockroaches’.

This is where deeply divided nations can end up. I am not saying that this is where the United States will end up, but if we head too far in opposite directions, it becomes harder and harder to come back together. How do we halt this process and attempt to heal this divide? Can we even do that? The answer is a resounding yes! To reverse course and not further advance the dehumanization process, we need to begin to see each other for what we are, flawed and human. We need to stop the bluster and rhetoric which is demeaning to people. We need to think before we speak and consider the impact of our words on others. If we do this, we will realize that while we hold differing views, we are not dehumanized by the other group to the extent that we had believed. This realization can help us break the cycle of polarization.

How can we stop dehumanization and polarization? There are psychological processes that are involved which, interestingly, form part of the process of political forgiveness. It can simply start with people on both sides coming together, apprehensive and all, and speaking to one and other, person to person. The value of discussion cannot be overstated. One person in discussion with another about life, about family or even about their favorite sports team is the most human of activities. Finding that common ground and what unites us rather than what divides us is how we move forward. 

While we may hold different beliefs and political views, we all have things which we can relate to one another on. By discussing and sharing our experiences, we learn about one another. When sitting in a room speaking with our perceived ‘adversaries’, those whom we have labelled as the ‘other’, we begin to recognize that although the content or perspective may be different the themes in the discussions and stories are similar. We realize that we have more in common than that which divides us. This shared human experience helps us open our minds, and our hearts, to one another allowing us a greater understanding of one another. We cannot dehumanize someone if we feel empathy towards them.

Sometimes these stories describe painful realities and truths that may be uncomfortable to hear, yet these stories can sow the seeds of transformation and help create a shared vision for the future based on a shared understanding of the past. To hear these stories, these narratives of the ‘other’, does not mean that you endorse them but it does mean that you hear and understand them. Sometimes the willingness to listen, and a focus on commonalities rather than differences, can help close the divide and establish a less polarized environment.

The Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Movement: A Political Forgiveness Process in Action

There is a movement afoot. It is called the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation movement where like-minded people have come together from all walks of life to address the historical and contemporary effects of racism. Not only is this movement concerned with the effects of racism found in social, economic and government policies, it is also concerned with the deeply held and often unconscious beliefs created by racism and in particular the belief of a “hierarchy of human value.” It is this belief which has fueled racism and conscious and unconscious bias throughout American culture. Therefor the purpose of this movement is to engage people, and to encourage discourse in this country that will bring people together as opposed to allowing the continuation of segregation and racism that tears us apart.

The TRHT framework was first developed in 2016 under the guidance of Dr. Gail Christopher at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 176 community and civic leaders, scholars and practitioners informed a year-long design process. An important part of the framework was to challenge the belief in a hierarchy of human value based on race by developing transformative approaches to community-based healing. It has been implemented in a wide variety of communities, including on university campuses.

To support this movement Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey recently announced the reintroduction of their legislation calling for the establishment of the first United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT). The commission will examine the effects of slavery, institutional racism, and discrimination against people of color, and how our history impacts laws and policies today. As Senator Booker said, “to realize our nation’s promise of being a place for liberty and justice for all, we must acknowledge and address the systemic racism and white supremacy that have been with us since our country’s founding and continue to persist in our laws, our policies and our lives to this day.” This legislation goes hand in hand with what the goals of the movement are and as Booker also commented, “this is the necessary first step in beginning to root our systemic racism in our institutions and for addressing and repairing past harm and building a more just nation for every American.”

The Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation movement is a wonderful example of a political forgiveness process which focuses on all levels of society. It begins with people coming together in a healing capacity and engaging in conversation within a given community. People share their stories and lay bare the awful truths of what has happened in their lives breaking the denial which has held a strong grip on our society. These stories help us get in touch with our humanity and help as get to know each other as truly human beings. When we can peel away the layers of fear, guilt and anger which is part of a forgiveness process we can get in touch with our humanity and begin to relate to each other differently and in a more compassionate way. We also need to learn how to walk in the shoes of the other. By dealing with what has happened, walking in someone else’s shoes, and by healing our own emotions which blocks us from feeling someone else’s pain we can change the narrative and how we behave. It is about our humanity, to see ourselves in one another, to genuinely care for one another to have empathy that goes beyond who we identify with. That is the work which needs to be done. And if we can help heal the suffering and hurt of ourselves as well as others, we are on the road to heal society and to build a stronger foundation for a more inclusive and just society.

For more information on political forgiveness please visit www.drborris.com.

 

The Beginning of a New Way Forward

As Charles Dickens once wrote in his novel A Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worse of times.” Could this be true for us? We are coping with a pandemic and dealing with deep divisions and issues of racial injustice which are profound. Parallels have been drawn between what is happening now and during the Civil War. So where are “the best of times?”

Crisis brings opportunities. Out of our pain can come healing. We know healing begins with truth telling and accountability and fortunately we have models from around the world which we can learn from. The most notable comes from the work of Nelson Mandel and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Although this commission had many flaws it is also a model which can teach us many things. Other models are emerging such as the work being done in Colombia with their truth commission. One of the most interesting aspects of this work is how it views different forms of the truth and works with the differing perceptions. Closer to home is the work done in Canada and their truth and reconciliation commission which provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

A new way forward is about transformation. It takes time and a critical mass to get there. Unfortunately, our culture has de-valued many of its citizens and so our work begins with remembering our humanity, our inner-connectedness and what it means to be a human being. It means zero tolerance for any kind of violence. In this country what we must grapple with is the ideology of racism and violence and the denial of humanity for different groups of people. The work must be comprehensive and work on all levels of society. People need to change mind sets, communities must come together and heal, and there needs to be resources and commitment on the governmental level to change structures in society so what we are now experiencing can never happen again.

Can the worse of times become the best of times? Can we embrace this moment of crisis in a healing capacity as a country so we can go forward with a new vision of who we must be as a nation and have the capacity to demonstrate empathy and care for one another, showing that we value one another? Can we transform our structures to be inclusive instead of exclusive? What I have just described is the work of political forgiveness. In practicing forgiveness politically, we can grow in compassion and empathy and out of that can develop a new culture based on our humanness. This IS our way forward and gives us an opportunity to make profound changes in our society.

For those interested in learning more about political forgiveness please go to my website www.drborris.com. Feel free to sign up for the monthly newsletter which shares information and stories on political forgiveness when you go to the website.

The Poisoning of America’s Soul

Today is MLK day, to honor not only a man who was a great civil rights leader, but also a very spiritual man who had a great soul. His speeches and writings demonstrated a depth of thinking reflecting his beautiful heart for humanity. He understood the destructiveness of violence which not only destroys the social progress in America but also destroys the nations soul as well.

Reverend King often warned about the importance of caring for the worlds oppressed rather than taking sides with the oppressor and so I want to leave you with the words of King himself who speaks of the importance of re-directing ourselves to creating a better world no matter what it demands of us along the way.

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. We still have a choice today, nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world a world that borders on our doors.

“If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.”

For those of you who are interested in learning about forgiveness on a political level please go to my website www.drborris.com. You can also sign up for a monthly newsletter whose focus is on political forgiveness.

 

Stop the Insanity!

It was truly heartbreaking to see destruction taking place on the U.S. Capitol during what was supposed to be a procedural event to confirm president-elect Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Instead, what was demonstrated was anger and hatred incited by the president himself. Is this the America we want or are we willing to stop this insanity and begin a healing process that is so desperately needed in this country? We are seeing very clearly the healing which needs to take place within the United States. If we chose to shine a light on the darkness within society and take responsibility for our actions perhaps something good can come from this.

 To heal the political divisions in this country we need to be honest. We need to know the truth and dismantle the conspiracy theories. Why is this so important? In Timothy Snyder’s book, On Tyranny Snyder spells out important lessons we need to learn and how to preserve a fragile democracy. He describes a trajectory of how authoritarian regimes begins to form such as in creating an alternative reality, dismantling the truth, and introducing doubt in a democratic system. Therefore, truth telling becomes extremely important in the healing process of any nation and especially when people continually lie for political gain, they need to be held accountable. We need to recognize that none of this happens without a concerted effort to support an alternate reality from the very beginning. And finally, how this story is recalled in the future is going to matter a great deal for our country. We need to remember who were on the side of this alternate reality, who perpetuated lies and who encouraged the insurrection by domestic terrorist. The way out of this situation is to tell the truth, and for people to be held accountable. Truth and accountability are necessary in the long-term process of healing this nation and go hand in hand.

I often speak of forgiveness on a political level and I am sure that when people hear these words, they automatically think that to forgive means to let people off the hook including our political leaders. That is not what political forgiveness is about. On the contrary, a political forgiveness process must begin with truth telling and accountability. This is the critical first step. Without this healing is impossible.

For all of you who would like to recieve my newsletter to learn more about political forgiveness please go to my website www.drborris.com.  If you have any personal or political forgivness stories you would like to share or have thoughts or questions you may have concerning forgiveness on a personal or political level please use the contact form below. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

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