One side or the other.
My biggest frustration with American politics has been our tendency to polarize the most basic issues rather than finding and building on common ground. I realize that’s easier said than done, but if we continue the political mindset of winning at all costs rather than doing what’s best for our country at large; I wonder where the situation will take us.
As I’ve thought about our country’s political dilemma this week, I remembered a student I met when I was teaching English in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s. He was a refugee living in Slovakia. He was originally from Sarajevo, which at that time was a city in between countries. In 1984, Sarajevo had hosted the Winter Olympics. It had been the picture postcard of global unity and peace.
A mere nine years changed everything.
The student tried in his broken English to tell me his personal story of what was happening in his country, beyond the big fact that the Serbs and Croats were waging a horrible war against each other. To be honest, I can’t remember which side he was on, but at any rate, he was a man without a country.
Thinking that a visual aid might help him with his struggle to explain things, I pulled out a map of his homeland. The moment I unfolded it and he realized what it was, tears began to run down his face. The new European map I had nonchalantly stuffed in my backpack was the first one he had seen of the former Yugoslavia, broken into so many different pieces.
What had been a unified place, even though it was under dire circumstances, was at that point a broken place. He looked at the map a long time before he spoke.
“Here is the strange thing,” he said. “For the first 20 years of my life, we all lived there with no real problems. In one house lived a Serbian family. In the next house was a family of Croatians. Christian. Muslim. It didn’t matter. We were different, but we were one place. Then it all fell apart, and the same neighbors who had lived beside each other and borrowed each other’s sugar were killing each other. I still don’t understand it.”
Neither did I.
Twenty years later, though the scars of war are still there, Sarajevo is lovely again. Wars end. People move on. What was once an issue that caused one countryman to hate another passes.
I wonder if we as Americans have the capacity to work through our differences and move on to a better, more productive place. Turning everyone with different views into an enemy isn’t working out so well for us.
How do we turn this thing around? We’re all here. One side of the political spectrum is not going to persuade the other to join them — just like the people in Sarajevo weren’t going to convert from one religion to another. Do we have to wage war against the other side to work through to an end? Hate, name-calling and mockery are not helping. Is it possible to focus on the common ground more than the differences?
Getting personal, many of us are able to look past the differences we have with people we love, focusing on the reasons we care about them more than we focus on the reasons they drive us crazy. Could we do that on a bigger level?
Can we at least try?