The 2016 presidential election was a turning point for me. I woke up the fact that I was living in a “bubble,” like many other liberal voters. We were stunned when there was a backlash among half of the voters against Clinton’s liberal worldview in which minority rights were supported, preserving the environment was a priority, and a professional class of experts, not just billionaires, would help shape governmental policy. This dramatic and far-reaching electoral backlash exemplified the opposing ways in which half of the electorate saw issues through one lens while the other half saw issues very differently.
I am determined to understand the multifaceted reasons for our deep cultural divide in the United States. What is driving us apart instead of together as a nation? This divide threatens our democracy and the vitality of our country. It leads to hostility, incivility, and intractable stalemate in our government.
Why do we need to be aware of others’ perspectives? It is more comfortable to reside in our own bubble with people around us who think the same, while our ideas and actions go unchallenged. But large, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and diverse countries like the United States, and increasingly many other countries around the world, are not homogeneous entities, and this requires their citizens to engage with others to uphold democratic processes and peaceful co-existence. Citizens cannot remain in their own insulated bubble and still have a vibrant democracy. We all need to make an effort to gain understanding and skills to navigate a more diverse world, which includes people from different lands as well as those who are our fellow citizens but live in a different state or zip code.
We recognize that there is an intractable cultural divide increasingly intensifying in the United States and throughout the Western world. The big question is what can we do about it? Although there are many well-meaning groups that have sprouted up after the 2016 election that encourage people to have conversations with people different from themselves, I believe we need to go deeper than just conversations. What are we going to talk about? We can’t assume that in a conversation with someone different from us we will be able to persuade them to think as we do just because we feel confident that we have the moral high ground. We are bound to be disappointed if this is our approach.
I believe, and it is the purpose of this blog series, that before meaningful conversations can take place, we need a deep understanding of ourselves as well as those who are different from us. What are the values that guide us, our experiences, our traditions, upbringing, geographic location, and basic personality? What makes each group feel the way they do about various issues, events, and future direction of this country and the world. I believe this is the first step in untangling the cultural divide, while also healing the divisions threatening to pull us asunder.
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.