Paying the Price for Unity

Americans are self-centered and fragmented. Until an overwhelming majority of Americans commit to the common good, unite, and stay united, we face a terrible future. 

What’s in it for me. You can be whatever you want to be. Someone must always be in charge. Winning is everything. My people, we have the answer. Those are key beliefs in the American credo. 

Until Americans set aside those beliefs, drop their abstract ideologies, and push for concrete improvements in unison, we face a terrible future. 

Change agents must change themselves as well as the world. If we learn to avoid divisive behaviors, we’ll be able to transform this nation into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of all humanity, ourselves, the environment, and life itself.

Electing good politicians, spontaneous movements to stop injustice, local campaigns, single-issue movements, helping individuals, and apolitical compassionate communities are not enough. Only a massive, multi-issue grassroots force that’s powerful enough to steadily make major, positive changes in national policies will be able to reverse this nation’s downward spiral.

Building that unity will require widespread self-awareness, self-evaluation, and self-development. 

That work calls for mutual support. Individuals grow best when they help each other. A nationwide community based on a foundation of small face-to-face communities rooted in trust and pragmatic idealism could attract new members with contagious compassion.

James Baldwin said:

A day will come when you will trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. And we can trust each other…. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet willing to pay.

One price we must pay is to face weaknesses, admit mistakes, and resolve to avoid them. Society has ingrained in us many habits that serve to help the status quo divide-and-conquer. Honest self-examination can lead individuals to see which of those habits apply to them. We can reflect on patterns seen throughout society, such as those listed below, and set our own self-improvement goals.

Far too often, inwardly we:

  • are judgmental;

  • focus on the material world and neglect the non-material, or spiritual;

  • avoid self-examination and don’t work on our self-development;

  • minimize our own responsibility and scapegoat others;

  • let our anger get the best of us;

  • assume we’re essentially superior human beings;

  • label others and keep them in boxes;

  • identify primarily with our tribe and forget our common humanity;

  • react to others based on arbitrary physical characteristics;

  • dwell in the realm of ideas and neglect feelings;

  • discriminate against people who have less education or income;

  • envy and resent those who have more education or income;

  • stereotype people who live in a different region of the country;

  • don’t try to better understand those who disagree with us;

  • are unable to agree to disagree and still communicate fruitfully;

  • are unable to see many sides to the same issue.

In our social interactions, far too often we:

  • talk and don’t listen;

  • fail to engage in heart-to-heart dialog;

  • spend too much time gossiping, telling stories about our past, or lecturing;

  • don’t take enough time to develop good friendships;

  • reduce others to tools to be used;

  • don’t support others in our personal growth efforts;

  • only engage in logical arguments and ignore underlying universal irrationality;

  • are mean, nasty, or rude;

  • spend most of our time dominating or submitting;

  • Indulge in no-holds-barred competition;

  • seek power over others;

  • focus on ourselves, family, or community and neglect others.

In our political activism, far too often we:

  • aim to crush opponents;

  • give up on finding common ground, compromise, and reconciliation;

  • forget to take care of ourselves and burn out;

  • concentrate too hard on having an impact;

  • don’t pay enough attention to how we work;

  • overlook that means need to be consistent with ends;

  • fail to consider if short-term goals are consistent with long-term goals;

  • aim to make an abstract point rather than accept a limited concrete gain;

  • work with organizations that won’t form coalitions;

  • don’t nurture supportive communities that stay together and attract others;

  • are too willing to impose suffering on innocent bystanders;

  • assume that leaders are those who mobilize followers to do what the leaders want;

  • indulge in either/or thinking, rather than both/and;

  • fail to seek win/win solutions.

When strong majorities are in alignment, we have an impact. United action need not involve everyone doing do the same thing at the same time. But when activists act, they need strong, majority support when pollsters poll. 

Momentary outrage against injustice is relatively easy. Sustaining proactive movements requires a deeper commitment. Nurturing open-ended mutual support for self-development could help crystallize that commitment.