Lately, I’ve noticed a disturbing American trend of growing divisiveness. Evidence of it is everywhere — on TV, social media postings, and even dating profiles.
This past week my inbox started to fill with personal notes from friends and family in response to my latest newsletter. One of these updates came from a friend of mine. It was a troubling letter from a sweet woman I’d met a few years ago. She’s one of these larger-than-life types of people. Full of smiles with a big heart to match.
She came into my life at a critical time. Within months of our meeting, I learned my husband had terminal cancer.
Each week she would make sure we crossed paths so that she could hand me a greeting card. Within these pick-me-up notes was more than a message; she’d also tucked inside a bit of cash to help ease my situation. I’d never encountered such selfless generosity.
I later learned that she and her husband had used that year’s vacation funds to support my family. When I asked why she would do such a great thing, she’d smile.
This amazing woman taught me something important about kindness and compassion. Relationships mattered more.
This past week I heard from her. In her brief update, I learned she’d split ways with one of her closest friends. These two women were besties. Both big-hearted individuals who had hung out together. What would have torn this unique relationship apart?
I couldn’t believe her answer — US politics.
This long-standing friendship had exploded over personal sentiments regarding the upcoming 2020 presidential elections.
What’s happening to us?
Lately, I don’t recognize who we are becoming. Just when we need each other more than ever, the divisiveness has reached an all-time high. We argue over whether we should have to wear a face mask, over the wisdom of getting a COVID vaccination, and over who to vote for in the 2020 presidential race.
These two women had been by each other sides for years. I’m sure their political difference wasn’t a new thing, since they had weathered other voting years. Why split now, and why over this?
How could a long-standing relationship end over the support of one particular political party?
This pervasive growing anger is everywhere. I’ve experienced myself.
Last week I decided to share an article I’d read on one of my social pages. The post was a short piece on the possible positive benefits of getting this fall’s flu shot. Since I’m not a news junkie, I had no idea this was a hot topic.
My policy is to avoid being divisive. I had no idea I was about to step into a shit storm. Within minutes, friends and family started responding. A slew of heated comments were posted in support and opposition to the article. It was clear most never bothered to read the article but were responding to the title.
Rational people, some close friends, commented with an intensity that shocked me. A couple of the angriest were posted by individuals who had seen me through my life’s worst period. I considered deleting the post altogether.
I’m deeply disturbed over this growing social divide. Why all of this anger and hate? This is the time we should be rallying together, not slinging arrows at one another. Why is there so much judgment, hostility, and rejection?
This attitude is everywhere, even on dating profiles. Many singles list characteristics of their ideal match. Alongside of looking to meet someone adventurous, a sports fan, an avid traveler, or an animal-lover, are political leaning musts.
In all my years of watching my parents’ and grandparents’ successful marriages, I never heard them argue about politics. They built their relationship on compromising, maintaining good communication, and being emotionally sensitive.
On election day, they occasionally joked around the dinner table that their votes most likely canceled each other out since they voted for opposite parties. But this was done light-heartedly and supportively. From a place of love.
Since when did such sentiments become deal-breakers?
What is at the root of this hatred? Is it fear? Or the result of our collective sense of powerlessness? What is tearing us apart?
This upcoming election will be the fifteenth I’ve lived to see. In my lifetime, I survived the assassination of one president and an attempt on another. One resigned in disgrace. Much of my day-to-day life does not depend on who sits in the Oval Office. Presidents will come and go.
During the Spanish flu, history recorded a dark time. In The Atlantic’s article, “Not Even the Coronavirus Will Unite America,” Dominic Tierney writes,
In 1918, without leadership, without the truth, trust evaporated. And people looked after only themselves.” In Kentucky, a Red Cross chapter chairman said hunger was rife, “because the well were panic stricken and would not go near the sick.” In Philadelphia, the rising tide of cases stoked selfishness and rage, and the city began to turn on itself. Doctors and nurses performed heroically, but wider society stopped answering the call.
Let’s not make the same mistake as those who survived that earlier pandemic.
Why are we allowing differences in politics to tear us apart? We can do better than that. We are forgetting this essential question: Who is my neighbor?
The answer is you.
Every one of you is essential — now more than ever. We can decide to see each other as friends or foes. This choice is up to us.
Please, let’s choose to be friends.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy is a clinical psychologist, mother of three grown sons, writer, and author of the devotionals: Jesus, The Ultimate Therapist: Bringing Hope and Healing, Jesus, The Ultimate Therapist: Healing Without Limits, and Pain as a Starting Point.
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