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Finding Common Ground in Divided Places

By Joanne Lee on November 16th, 2016

Dear Neighbor,

As we exchanged our usual pleasantries this morning in the driveway, we both paused for a moment, knowing that things are significantly different since last Tuesday. This change is something that we both recognize will impact our day-to-day lives in ways that are yet to be determined. We struggle with this uncertainty and also with finding a way to bridge what has been an unspoken divide between us.

Through living side-by-side over several years, we’ve found ways to co-exist and help each other through major floods and other community crises. We’ve also realized that we differ in our values and beliefs. We’ve seen it on each other’s bumper stickers and read it in each other’s social media posts. Being exposed to different points of view and ways of life were reasons that led me to move from a community where most people looked and thought like me to one where I would encounter new perspectives. Yet I was saddened by the realization last week that so many of our neighbors are divided.

Perhaps behind our pause this morning was a moment of relatability. You felt the same way eight years ago. Back then, you said to me that you were considering moving and that you didn’t feel like this country was your home. I listened and heard your words, but understand them better today.

“There are only two emotions: love and fear,” said Elisabeth Kübler-Ros.

I understand the fear and loss of hope. I’m coming to realize that your fear stemmed from feeling unheard and left behind for too long. What seemed to me like drastic action last week feels like recognition of growing frustration to you. You’ve reminded me that news and political commentary does not necessarily represent your lived experience. You have heightened my resolve to better understand the ways in which race, gender, income, education, sexual orientation and other factors that influence equity are intertwined in complex ways. Though we live in the same southern rural community, your lived experience as a white, working-class male is different from mine as an Asian American woman. And while we didn’t cast our ballots the same way, we share our community and have the same desire for equality and a fulfilling life.

We will likely move forward advocating for change differently, and I hope that our moment of relatability will enable us to do so in ways that stem from love rather than fear. That we will each take more time to see behind the despair, frustration, and anger before we act or react. That rather than leading with convincing and arguing driven by self-righteousness, we lead with compassion and things we have in common.

I believe that equality is not finite and that the ability to achieve it should not depend upon who you voted for or where you live. While it is fair to hold each other accountable, let us be guided by our humanity, grant each other hope, and navigate ways to be great, and stronger, together.

Image adapted from “Red and blue neighbours,” © 2014 David Roessli.

Joanne Lee

Senior Project Director

Adventurous strategist, cross-cultural explorer, and human and animal welfare champion.