Unifying the Divide
Bill Cottringer
A house divided against itself cannot stand. ~Abraham Lincoln.

It is ironic that our country, which was founded on rebellion against authority and its divisive principles, ended up as a divided house itself starting with slavery and bringing us to today’s Great Divide of ideologies, beliefs, and values. Now that we have successfully managed to evolve into such a polarizing, divisive split in our country with opposing beliefs, values, and perspectives, it may be about time for some reconciling unification in our delayed pursuit of authentic happiness. The journey to reconciliation starts with understanding the real problem behind the Great Divide and ends with all of us practicing the sensible cures of realizations and practices which are readily available. Although thinking got us into this mess, we can only behave our way out of it and as will be discussed, there may be limitations to that ability.

Understanding the Problem

There are certain inherent polar differences in the way we all think, feel and act, coming from a combination of genetics and social conditioning. We develop, express, and live our chosen beliefs, viewpoints, and values in our common pursuit of happiness, but in many different ways, getting many different results. In dealing with others and life in general, we can either be hopeful, optimistic, positive, and trusting, or hopeless, pessimistic, negative, and untrusting, or more likely somewhere in between, waiting until the last moment to decide which way to lean.

This major viewpoint leads us to either feel we have to accept reality with all its limitations or try to change the parts we don’t like. And our acceptance or desire to change things can be flavored with the different approaches of being passive, aggressive, or assertive, according to what our experiences tell us works best. We don’t like to be controlled, and yet we often try to control others. Now this is where the natural polar differences stop and something else starts, which is very artificial and totally unnecessary. But it is something that is pervasive and leading us down a rabbit hole most of the time, with no way out.

What we do after learning about the natural differences that have existed all along, is the real problem beneath all the painful symptoms on the surface. We overdo things by adding another layer of polarization on top of the inherent and learned basic differences that divide us. We have experiences in life, but we assign qualities to these experiences from our judgment of them into more polar opposites. Here comes the opposite qualities of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, true vs. false, and painful vs. pleasurable, just making things more complex and ambiguous than they need to be.

In this sense Epictetus was correct when he said, “It is not the things in life which bother us, but our opinions about these things.” And after this second level of polarization, our communication worsens the three main divide—with us and life, between us and others, and within us and ourselves. This happens with our assumptions of even further qualities like superiority, certainty, and control.

Now there is one important caveat to effective problem-solving. Every appealing solution may bring a new set of problems with it. So maybe curing the divide is too ambitious, whereas managing it will give us a chance to plan for the additional problems that may be coming with the divide-healing solutions. At the end of the day, we may have to accept the reality that the divide is here to stay and there isn’t anything we can do to reconcile it. But we can certainly better manage the ill effects and unwanted negative emotions that come about from our thinking, feeling and behaving reactions to the many polar issues the Divide loudly announces.

Managing the Problem

The most sensible way to reconcile the divide involves a package of thinking realizations, feeling sensations, and behavioral practices. Here are a few important mindful realizations that can help unification:

• Human self-consciousness has left us all with divided minds which separate all things into this or that categories—thinking vs. feeling, mind vs. body, science vs religion, pro-government vs. anti-government, simple vs. complex, destiny vs. free will, Republicans vs. Democrats, certainty vs. uncertainty, good vs. evil, and so on ad infinitum. We just take this process too far by taking everything apart and forgetting to put the parts back together again.
• We don’t need to do anything about the natural differences in viewpoints, beliefs, and values that we experience with others. But there are four things we do need to stop doing here which can minimize the negative effects: (a) stop judging the quality of our experiences, so as to spend more time getting to understand their benefit and enjoy the experiences themselves more (b) stop defending and arguing about these differences (b) stop assuming our own perspectives, beliefs and values are superior and truer than others, and (c) stop taking our preferred side so seriously with a do or die attitude. We just need to have more fun playing our role and enjoying the colorful differences within the full meaning of diversity, equality and inclusion.
• Although judgment is a very natural human tendency, it always has very unnatural consequences, especially in aggravating the existing divide. We can’t tell our minds to not think someone else is wrong or a bad person, but we can control our mouths from imposing this unwanted information. And, although it is inevitable to experience bouts of depression and anxiety at times, being depressed about being depressed or anxious about being anxious, just worsen the divide between mental wellness and mental illness. Feeling more pain about pain just compounds the pain unnecessarily, making it appear worse than it is. When we spend less time judging and criticizing and more time understanding and learning, most of the extra pain seems to dissolve.
• The most productive way to understand a problem is to see and deal with it as it is now, forgetting about how it has appeared in the past or what it may look like in the future. Being more mindful of the problem at hand, gets rid of unnecessary and irrelevant information, to focus more on what is most important—the profound simplicity just on the other side of complexity.
• All that we think we know isn’t always so, but rather often just assumed as such. And compared to what we really know for sure, apart from unverified assumptions, there is much, much more to know. This humble admission is very refreshing and liberating. It also takes away all need for defensiveness related to insecurity and vulnerability. Our common bottom line is that we are all basically insecure and flawed, using our personal knowledge as the façade covered with security blankets, at least until we understand the futility of doing this.

Here are some important behaviors of which we all may want to consider practicing more:

• Start communicating the things that heal the divide and open up good, two-way communication. These involve conveying values like acceptance, equality, freedom, provisionalism, and empathy, while avoiding the things that aggravate the divide further and shut down communication such as conveying judgment, superiority, control, certainty, and insensitivity. Improved communication also involves active listening to understand rather than just to give a clever response.
• Exercising our rights and freedoms responsibly and assertively without needlessly offending others by imposing what we think and feel, especially in a passive or aggressive manner or with a defensive tone.
• Shifting from the traditional competitive, win-lose mentality model which widens the divide further, to the newer cooperative, win-win one, which closes the gap. If we need a compromise between these two perspectives, we can compete against ourselves and cooperate with others.
• Embracing and engaging in the three Cs of cooperation, collaboration, and compromise to solve solvable problems and manage the rest. We each have a small piece of the puzzle and sharing what we have for us all to get to the finish line together, makes better sense than debating the value of whatever small piece we have and keeping it all to ourselves.

It could be that our divided minds led us astray, only to find the way in a different way. After all is said and done, it is the surprise of the outcome of our efforts, that leads to the most authentic happiness. It is also a milestone in confirming progress in our journeys. Although we may not be able to completely reconcile the Divide, at least we can reduce the negative baggage it brings to us all. That is progress.

To solve the human equation, we need to add love, subtract hate, multiply good, and divide between truth and error. ~Janet Coleman.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is retired Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, but still teaches criminal justice classes and practices business success coaching and sport psychology. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Because Organization, an intervention program in human trafficking. Bill is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Critical Thinking (Authorsden); Thoughts on Happiness, Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.). Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away and Christian Psychology for Everyday Use (Covenant Books, Inc.). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (206)-914-1863 or ckuretdoc@comcast.net