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It’s election season in America and that means we are deep into the throes of polarity.  Good-bad, right-wrong, moral-immoral, fact-fiction, agree-disagree. While I logically know that polarity must exist, I struggle with the extremes of it.  I understand that without sadness, one can’t experience or know joy; without cold, one can’t appreciate warm and so on.  I just don’t dig all the drama.

I am very concerned about the polarity in our country and how it seems to be reverberating around the globe. We can try to blame it all on leadership, but that feels disempowering to me.  I think we have to look in the mirror and see what role we our playing in the divisiveness.  I see a lot of extreme negative behavior.  Families are not talking, people are protesting, some peacefully some not, our sense of safety is being eroded, people fear for both their health and their individual freedoms.  Everyone is demanding change, but neither we nor our leaders are having conscious conversations about what that change needs to look like to benefit the greater good.  And all this in the middle of a health & economic crisis and concerns for social & racial justice just to name a few of our big issues.

Each side questions the other’s intelligence, and says “are they stupid?” Funny how both “sides” are asking the same question.  Have we lost touch with a common core of decency and humanity?  Are we addicted to being right? Or is there something else going on? It has gotten so pronounced, so blatant and divisive that it feels like there is something much bigger going on.

Recently my daughter and I watched a documentary on Netflix called The Social Dilemma.  It is based on interviews with a lot of technology experts that have held technical and leadership positions in many of the big tech companies. I am not saying it has all the answers, but it just may have some. It suggests that as we engage in online anything, i.e. social media, search engines, news feeds etc. we are being manipulated and fed certain types information (good, bad, factual, and not) that typically affirms the way we want to see the world, for advertisers profit. Scientific algorithms work to refine our views, what we see and over time we get a narrower and narrower view of reality.  It also suggests that there may be nefarious forces at work.  I suggest you watch it and see what you think.

To me it makes a lot of sense.  From a societal level, I have a longtime belief that our children are being incredibly negatively impacted by social media. This documentary bolsters many of my positions with data.  We are seeing unprecedented youth self-harm and suicide escalation like we’ve never seen, ever. There is something bigger it seems that we need to understand and address.

The essence for me is simple.  If we are being exposed mostly to a diet of what we think is “right” and more and more of it over time, reinforcing & deepening our beliefs, triggering our deepest fears and emotions, this could create the polar positions that are so deeply embedded in our society right now.  If everybody is right, then how is anyone wrong? Is someone always wrong? Does it need to be this polar? How did we get here?

I fell victim to getting on my high horse recently on social media.  I got very emotionally triggered by a post I saw.  Instead of my usual process of going to check it out, seeing what I could and could not verify and then make a decision what to do next, or if there was a positive productive action I could take, I shared the post from a place of anger.  I am not proud of this.  I got mostly responses that supported my position. I also got a few responses that were really negative and even violent towards the persons involved in the posted topic.  Exactly what I don’t want to engender more of in the world. The point is, this is happening to most of us on some level and it is being aided by technology. If the documentary is accurate, the truth requires examination with a variety of sources AND perspectives. It is certainly not defined by a single post.  We need to be aware of this and be better stewards of the information we digest and share. It takes more than a “like” and a “share.” I am chagrined that instead of positive action, I stirred up negative emotions and anger.

Now, I ask you to think ahead to the day or week after the election in the U.S. Once a “winner” is declared, no matter who it is, about ½ the country will be celebrating and the other ½ will be really upset. What will this do to the divisions we are already facing?  Betcha people will not be shaking hands, singing kumbaya on the streets and suddenly befriending/loving the other side like lost brothers or sisters.

It seems no matter which way the election goes, I think we need to wake-up and  figure out how we will manage going forward.  How can we move away from polarity to operate from reason instead of reaction, love not fear?

I wish I had this all figured out; I wish I had even some of the answers; I wish I could wave a magic wand and fix it all.  I don’t and I can’t.

What CAN I/we do? I can lead myself:

  1. I can manage myself better, open my mind to different perspectives, try to see what future others are investing and believing in, and get curious about what they see that I don’t.
  2. I can hold conversations with people without trying to forward my own point of view.
  3. I can listen more and seek to understand, not judge.
  4. I can let go of being right or even righteous.
  5. I can focus on the commonality we all have: we are human, we love many people, we want to have healthy, happy productive lives, and want that for our children and future generations.
  6. I can take actions that bring more positivity to myself and others.

Start here, with what is common amongst us.  Also, pay attention to how much time you are engaging in social media, news and talking down the “other side.” See if you can conjure up compassion for someone on the “other side.” Turn off the screens, get outside more, walk with, and talk to your neighbors and family.  Build a community, even if you don’t agree on everything.

It takes small actions and a solid commitment to first shift ourselves, then our families and communities.  I hope you will pick a few and start to work on what you can control.

An Unexpected Journey - book cover - Lori Severson

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