Let’s Stop Buying Into Polarizing Overgeneralizations

Ban divisivenessReds, blues, blacks, whites, browns, conservatives, liberals, the NRA, the ERA, gays, straights, and there are more.  In the U.S. we encounter several of these labels daily if we pay attention to the news.  Almost always the mention of a label is in a context which adds to the polarity, the dissonance, between people who don’t see eye to eye on some topic or another.  One of the functions of these labels is that they play on areas of disagreement.  They tend to lead us to believe that if we fall in one camp or another on a particular topic that those in the other camp don’t agree with us about anything!  That we actually exist in isolated, self-contained little micro-cultures which are competing for domination of the nation.  So we need to fear those who are different, who belong to a different tribe.  The more we listen to the hype and polarizing rhetoric we are bombarded with the closer we get to actually becoming (being shaped to become?) the narrow minded, fear driven people that the media too often portrays us as!

The fact is most of the people in any of the labeled groups have more in common with the people in the other groups than not.  For the most part the people in any of these groups are loving mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers.  People who worry about making ends meet at the end of the month.  We are, in the U.S. (and elsewhere) by and large a people who worry about being able to keep a roof over our heads, feed our families, pay our medical bills, have something for retirement.  We are a people who enjoy cook-outs, music, sports, fishing, art, a good book, a good movie or all of the above.  Yes, there are some extremists running around who want to force everybody to see the world through the same lens they do.  But, despite the rampant media coverage they receive, they are in the minority.

And this is not just true about how our news paints the U.S., the world is painted with the same brush.  If we believe what’s in the news we will quickly come to believe there are just a few sane people and that we are being overrun by rabid extremists.  I think the more we publicize and fear the rabid extremists the more we throw fuel on their fire.   What a waste or misuse of time and energy. This is not to say we can ignore them.  The ostrich (head in the sand) approach to current affairs just doesn’t work.  But we need to have a more balanced media coverage of issues.

The generalized anxiety and fear, the logical result of the current overblown hype widely spread by the media, is demoralizing and not conducive to healthy people or a healthy culture.

It’s time we take a few deep breaths, remind ourselves of what really matters in our lives, then look around and see how many other people of all shapes, colors, sizes and ethnic backgrounds care about the same things.   Most of us don’t want to tread heavily upon our neighbors.  But you’d never know that from the news.

So how can we know that these things. these statements I’m making about our shared joys and concerns are true statements?  Just look around.  What are most people doing?  The truth of these statements is self-evident.  But these everyday activities, common joys and concerns aren’t what generate headlines.

When we genuinely realize our mutuality, how much each other’s well being, the well-being of our communities, matters to us all, then we will be able to build the lines of communication and understanding to have a genuine shared platform from which to work out the issues that we feel threatened by.  The issues that divide us.  It really can be done.  This is true on a local level, national level and true on an international level.

So what is preventing it from simply taking place right now?  More people than not around the world would undoubtedly embrace a cessation of armed hostilities and eagerly engage in good faith discussions to solve the problems that exist.  So, again, why isn’t it happening?  Because while we have been working to support our families;  special interests within our governments, industries, banks, and media, have been taking them over.  They have relegated the common good to a sideshow.  Increasingly our minds are being bombarded with propaganda, often in the form of sweeping generalizations, which serves the agenda of one financial special interest group or another.  And we are believing too much of it.  We really need to come to our senses and stop letting some special interest or the other get in the way of, steal our focus away from, our common ground.

In the U.S. it is worth noting that in large part the issues which we hear about over, and over, and over again from the media, the issues that are being worked overtime and keep us all either hyper-critical or hyper-defensive, tend to have some things in common.  1.  They all tend to be issues in which the traits or behaviors of one group are being labeled as “bad” or questionable and the “good” group is out to, or should be out to,  enforce their will upon the offenders.  2.  The issues tend to be issues of personal traits or personal choice.

What are these individual traits or choices that have us so polarized?  Within the U.S. they often are:  LGBT lifestyles, LGBT marriage, gun ownership, women’s right to control over their own bodies, religious and ethnic orientation.  Let’s just start with those.  Bear in mind in this context I am referring to the common expressions of these values and behaviors and not to the minority of ill behaved, narrowly focused extremists associated with any of them.  Are there some important factors within these issues?  Sure there are.  But mostly these issues are about somebody’s ability to live their life according to their nature, values, perspectives and choices.  And the mistakes, if any, are their own to deal with.  If I don’t agree I am free to share my perspective.  Freedom of speech is essential to human development.  Maybe sharing my views might make a positive difference to another person, or maybe not.  But, in relation to these types of issues, it’s not necessary for me to force my perspective upon anyone else for me to live my life as I choose.

Imagine if these issues disappeared from the news broadcasts and political arena altogether.  What would we start to pay attention to?  Issues that really do affect the majority of us in our lives, homes and communities?  Economic imbalance, war (what are we out to win?), defense spending, the quality of our air, water and food?  Whether the facts we’re given on world events are authentic or manufactured fantasy?  Of course one thing about it is that as long as we stick to personal values and behaviors we’re dealing with things we can see first hand right in front of us.  We know who the participants are, we can see them.  The other larger issues which affect us all can be harder to get a handle on.  It takes more work.  But we also have so much more to gain from seeing them resolved in manners which stand to positively affect our lives, families and communities.

In the early days of our developing American civilization the Salem witch trials were a sideshow.  The real issues that were brewing back then were much the same as the ones that we are facing today;  greed, distribution of wealth, privacy and personal freedoms, a government unresponsive to the common people, inordinate amounts of tax money simply disappearing into the hands of people and for purposes far from the immediate common good.  A major difference is that today, thanks to those who founded our nation, we have a democratic process in place we can use to change this destructive reality.  We need to use it.

We have to stop believing the polarizing over-generalizations, the labels and the hype that keep us distracted from the big issues that are really tearing our lives and communities apart.  We need to quit listening to the propaganda and forget who the Democrats or Republicans want to throw at us.  Anybody with enough money to run a major campaign with the multi-media saturation we’ve gotten used to has already been compromised.  Look for a 3rd, 4th, or 5th party candidate.  We need to shatter the patterns that have become so entrenched.  We need to get focused on our common ground, it’s already there, waiting, but we have had our attention distracted to the point we’ve all but forgotten it.  And when we have realized our mutuality we can begin working together to solve the problems that are crippling us, the common people, throughout our communities, our nation and even the world.

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