By Alan Freed
Many Americans are having a difficult time as we work on healing following a particularly bruising political campaign. As Election Day approached, the rhetoric gained intensity, neighbor turned against neighbor, brother stopped talking to sister, and our sense of community was severely tested. Some friendships may never recover. Even for those whose candidate emerged victorious, a kind of sadness pervades, as we all recognize the psychic cost of this highly partisan, emotionally charged national debate.
My job as a divorce mediator requires me to encourage each spouse to recognize and acknowledge the perspective of the other. I always remind my clients that, although they are both viewing the same conflict, they see it through different eyes and from different perspectives. I tell them that, while they don’t have to agree with the other person’s views, if they hope to resolve their issues peacefully, they need to be willing to accept the existence of an alternative standpoint. If they refuse to take that step, then getting to a place of mutual satisfaction is going to be extremely challenging at best, and very unlikely at worst, and they may very well end up losing all control over the outcome and turning their lives, and those of their children, over to a stranger wearing a black robe.
So, what can we all take from the burning embers of the political battlefield? The first thing we need to learn is that peaceful resolution begins with listening. My 24-year-old daughter has a close friend who comes from the opposite end of the political spectrum. The day after the election, exhibiting a youthful wisdom that I wish I saw with more regularity among those of us with far more life experience, she decided to talk politics with her friend. Here’s what she said, “As we kept the conversation going, I went from anger to understanding. I think that’s a pretty big deal. It’s hard to understand something that makes your blood boil. But if we try harder to understand another person’s views that are different from our own, the world makes a little more sense and to me that’s what matters right now.”
She got that right. When the election is over, we still need to sit side-by-side in our cubicles and volunteer together for the PTA and coach each other’s kids, laugh at each other’s jokes, and offer hugs to those who hurt. Those interactions are necessary for our survival as healthy, happy, functioning human beings in a common culture. A willingness to listen with understanding is the necessary first step towards removing the barriers between us. I can tell you from my professional experience that it works to help heal the deep wounds that accompany divorce. I am confident it will work to rebuild our sense of unity as an American people.