A recent Associated Press feature asked the question of whether or not we are still truly a grouping of united states or if we have become a more divided America.
I don’t personally believe we are any more divided in the United States today than we’ve ever been, however, there are several factors that may amplify this perception.
Differences are what define democracy.
The ability to have and freely express dissent on an individual and collective basis is what this country is founded upon. Some may argue our political views are as polarized as they have ever been. Not so fast. I can only imagine how vitriolic the discourse was as the two party system of government was first established in the late 1790’s. For example, today’s CNN debates pale in comparison to the culmination of the personal and political rivalry between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, which resulted in Hamilton’s death by duel at dawn. Thanks to the creative genius of Lin Manuel Miranda, I have learned more about the early stages of our government’s formation than I ever learned in school. To every history teacher I have ever had, I apologize for not applying myself until I heard it on Broadway in a chart-topping rapsical. Who knew?
Maybe we are a little too connected to one another.
What the Federalists and Democratic Republicans of Hamilton’s time did not have was unfettered access to information via the technology of today. Today, thousands of media outlets, with their own political and social leanings, churn out stories and seven second sound bites that are voraciously consumed by a public moving in sync toward forming opinions grounded in anti-intellectualism. And the explosive growth and relative ease of access to technology has created a plethora of citizen journalists with a willingness and ability to position their opinions as fact, oftentimes in voluminous comment strands. My wife has challenged me to stay away from the comments, but my fallible human nature simply can’t resist periodically diving deep into the human psyche of the Internet troll.
Tension may not be comfortable, but it is natural.
As we continue to run the race to increase our LinkedIn connections, our Twitter followers and our Facebook friends, we will inevitably continue to expose ourselves to others who hold opposing viewpoints – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. At its very core, this is diversity.
I had the incredible opportunity to befriend and be mentored by one of the founding architects of the corporate diversity management movement, the late Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., who coined the term “diversity tension” as the natural outcome of the growing complexities that surface in the context of our growing differences and similarities. In other words, as uncomfortable as tension may feel, it’s natural. Getting rid of the tension is counter-productive to diversity. Instead, it’s how we react to and manage the tensions and complexities created by diversity that can and should lead to productive outcomes.
So, no, I don’t think we are becoming more divided, I think we are just more aware of and exposed to the very kinds of diversity that define who we are as a country. What we also have now, more than ever, is access to tools and information that can help to leverage the differences and similarities that make America great and unique. The question is, will we choose to use them or languish in the comfort of anti-intellectualism?