Polarized America. Polarized Self: A Call for Collaboration

I live in a polarized body. My very being is compromised by competing characteristics. Mexican-American heritage–bilingual, bicultural. College-educated millennial on need-based scholarship. Latina social justice leader in white evangelical conservative communities. Independent voter in hyperpartisan America. I have no tribe that can truly represent me; my identity lacks clarity. I am politically, ethnically, spiritually homeless.

This internal dissonance has created endless external clashes. It is actually exhausting and harmful to my physical and mental wellbeing to be surrounded by others who think I am wrong or crazy and it feels like I am constantly surrounded by people who look and think differently than I do. I often assume that everybody else is happily categorized. But as I began to dig into data, listen to friends, and observe society, I started to notice something surprising—it’s not just me.

Majority Isolation: The Bad News

Perhaps you find it intriguing to have so many polarities expressed within one human body and soul. Even though many of us have been comfortable within one ‘tribe,’ the country is changing steadily. According to Pew Research Center data the US is becoming less ethnically, spiritually, and politically homogenous.1 I embody and experience these demographic shifts in a real and grounded way. Perhaps you see yourself in the numbers as well.

The shocking data on partisan animosity and toxic congressional gridlock are hard to swallow—our country is deeply divided. The data confirm the subtle yet persistent struggle that we experience at the dinner table, church potluck, or the office water cooler. We feel alone.

So now what?

We find ourselves at a key moment of decision. It is an election year and each of us—one by one—have to make a political decision. No, I am not talking about option A vs. option B of the presidential candidacy, although I care deeply about that outcome. I am referring to option A, B, and C of our shared future.

Option A: Tribalism

“Fight for victory, volunteer, buy the bumper sticker! Maintain a stronghold on your positions and stand your ground. If we don’t win… they will ruin America.”

Option B: Apathy

“Why bother? The viciousness of the mudslinging, the noisy media and your own relative smallness inspires only ‘Netflix and chill.’ Vote Ignorance and Apathy 2016 by hitting ‘snooze’ on that alarm clock just one more time. Maybe four years from now you will wake up and care.”

Option C: Collaboration and E pluribus unum

In a world characterized by these tempting and all-too-typical options we frequently forget to consider a third way. In this 2016 election and beyond, I am hoping for an expression of our nation’s motto—E pluribus unum, ‘out of many, one.’ E pluribus unum inspires us to ruthlessly re-evaluate and recalibrate the balancing act between self and society, private and public. Out of many states and stakeholders, one. Out of many peoples, religions, political parties, one. We bring this oneness into existence through collaboration—even when it makes us frustrated or fearful.

A Technicolor Self: The Good News

The good news is that on every scale, from the upper echelons of policymakers to the individual activists, there are transpartisan leaders modeling unlikely partnerships and creating solutions with ‘respect, open mindedness, and integrity.’2 Inspired by these leaders, I am driven to pioneer new frontiers politically and personally.

Personally, I have learned to allow my polarized being both space and grace. What does this look like? Offering myself space and grace means judging myself less, exploring new ideas, and forgiving myself for past mistakes or over-corrections. I can then do the same for the isolated majority.

Personally, I have resented myself or my circumstances for not creating more certainty, but now I accept myself as a bridge builder. I have the opportunity to hold out one arm to embrace my gangster, cholo cousins while holding out the other to my white, educated church family. Politically, as I give myself permission to agree with values from both the GOP and DNC, I find that I live in a healthy and whole body that craves cross-partisan collaboration.

Our divided country needs people who will respectfully tweet their convictions and also learn from their political adversaries. We need neighbors who disagree on fracking but unite to end bullying in their schools. We are waiting for everyday heroes, especially the tortured, polarized souls who can challenge the status quo and unite our nation.

You and I have a choice when we cast our votes and also the second we release the ballot: we can join a camp with all the tribal fire in us, we can stay in bed and wait for the world to change, OR we can commit to the labor of love as citizens of this country and begin to walk the third-way path of transformative transpartisanship.

I hope you will join me and the thousands of millennials who are ready for option C.