“We are different; we always have been and always will be. However, different shouldn’t divide us, but unify us because different is an asset.” ~ Elizabeth Margo
We live in a time that can be very divisive. While it is not uncommon for politicians to publicly demean one another, it is becoming more of the norm for people to attack and get attacked for having or holding an opinion on any societal issues. I personally see some of my most important relationships in danger due to differences in opinion over COVID-19, the upcoming presidential election, and everything in between. Many times I have found myself discouraged due to the polarized state of our nation and its people. This is why I wish to dedicate this post to how you and I can seek for unity during this time when everything seems to be pushing us apart.
We have all unintentionally categorized someone–putting them into boxes of what they do and/or believe based on the limited information we have. Let us be careful to not purposefully do this with the current political and societal issues we see daily. Two examples would be assuming someone is anti Black Lives Matter because he/she plans to vote for a certain candidate, or that someone is buying into the “political fear agenda” because he/she wears a mask. We need to be more open minded and less polarizing in our assumptions of where others stand. Additionally, if something someone says stirs up a strong emotion with us, instead of replying immediately, might I suggest first getting introspective. Consider why that comment hits a nerve and seek to understand what is happening internally before responding.
Our country is going through some seriously complex issues, and we each can do our part to allow freedom of speech and opinion without getting combative. The pandemic has been a personal reminder of how much I value the relationships with people in my life. Do not let differing opinions create a wedge in the relationships in your life. My greatest hope for this difficult time is that you and I, my readers, can be the change this country needs. Let us each seek for unity over division by taking the following actions:
- Ask questions. Often we have limited information about someone. If you do not understand their stance or opinion, ask questions to get to know where they are coming from. We do not have to agree with everyone, but we can seek to understand them better. What are topics you wish others asked you questions about, so they could understand you better?
- Listen. After you ask your questions, listen. Genuinely listen to the answers. Listen with the intent to understand and see his/her perspective, not with the intent to argue. Avoid the tendency to dominate the dialogue, interrupt, or judge the person; be patient and let the other person express him/herself. We all want to be heard and known, and the best way to achieve that is by listening! Is there someone in your life that you could practice listening to more? You may just be surprised what you could learn from them!
- Assume the best in others. I have a friend who is pro-Biden because she is pro-choice. She was initially scrutinized for this belief, but eventually came out with the shocking news that she recently had to abort a fetus with serious defects. Knowing her story changed others’ opinion of her for the better. If someone disagrees with you on a key issue, strive to assume they are coming from a good place. Is there someone in your life that you have potentially been a little harsh with that you could instead try to assume the best of?
- Seek common ground. Recently, the candidates for Governor of Utah joined together to make an ad in unity instead of disparaging each other (the norm in politics); watch their refreshing video here. Like these opponents for Governor, we may disagree on some of the larger issues at hand, but we can follow their example and come together by seeing that we have more in common than we originally thought. Like, for instance, that we all want America to thrive, and that we care about our friends and loved ones more than whatever differences in opinion(s) we may have. I think that it is often difficult to get to these places of commonality because we fail to listen to and respect one another enough to discover our mutually shared beliefs. What are some shared beliefs you have with someone that you often feel at odds with?
- Establish boundaries. I know a family that has a rule that they cannot discuss certain things at the dinner table. This rule has allowed them to focus on their personal relationships with each other and on what they have in common. If we spend time looking to establish what our shared beliefs/hopes/ambitions/ and thoughts are, we will spend less time on what we disagree upon. This is an amazing way to be united and not divided! What boundaries can you create to keep the harmony in your important relationships during these unsettling times?
The next time you are in a situation that has the potential to weaken your tie with someone you value, instead ask questions, listen, assume the best in others, seek common ground, and consider establishing boundaries to keep the peace. Remember, humans are wired for connection; we thrive off of having meaningful relationships. It is so important to connect with people we care about; it is possible to be close with others even if we do not agree on everything! While there is much pulling us apart, we can work to do our part and stay together, to stay united. I am here to help should you have any questions or need any assistance. Contact me today!
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
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- Entrepreneur: “11 Ways Successful People Deal With People They Don’t Like”
- The Humbled Homemaker: “Getting Along With People Different Than Us”
- The Newton Bee: “Words For Guidance In A Divisive Time”
- Psychology Today: “5 Rules for Getting Along With Anyone”
- Psychology Today: “Seeking Similarities Over Differences”
- Today: Utah politicians who united for ad say Americans are ‘hungry for decency’
- Tribune Chronicle: “Unity in Divisive Times”
- Wise Old Sayings: “Unity”