If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard someone say “America is more divided than ever” since the election, I wouldn’t be writing this scholarship essay. I could probably pay off my student loans and buy a sports car.
But there’s a reason I’ve heard so much about our nation divided. We can’t agree on very much these days. We watch different news stations. We read different websites. We don’t agree on guns, abortion, or gay marriage. Half of America loves the president; half of America wants him impeached. And healthcare makes rocket science look like tinker toys.
In trying times like these, we must find common ground. We need tolerance now more than ever. But what exactly does it mean to be tolerant?
Tolerance begins with recognizing one simple fact. We all grow up in a different house, in a different place, with different parents. None of us choose these things, but they do a lot to determine who we are and what we believe. I was born in the North End of Boise, Idaho. Most of my childhood consisted of eating organic food in the back of a Volvo station wagon. I didn’t choose it. I didn’t question it.
When I got older I started to challenge many of my parent’s beliefs. These days we disagree on plenty. But my fundamental sensibilities were still shaped by coffee shops and farmers markets. I was predisposed to be a democrat. But if I had been raised outside of Boise, and my family owned a lot of guns, I would probably be a card carrying NRA member. If I had a different religious background, I might have deeply held beliefs about faith healing.
Tolerance is realizing that even if we end up disagreeing with our upbringing, we are still a product of our life experiences. Tolerance is acknowledging that we will never understand what some people have gone through, or how they arrived at their beliefs. Above all tolerance is listening. Listening isn’t just waiting for someone to stop talking so that we can argue back. We have to work hard to see where other people are coming from.
Certainly there will be issues that are incredibly challenging to see eye to eye on. If someone believes that life begins at conception, they cannot accept abortion. If someone is not religious, they cannot accept a child dying without treatment. These beliefs are deeply held and difficult to change.
But by simply having a discussion we can bridge important gaps and find common ground. We have to remember that everybody is coming from a different place, that nobody is right all the time, and that everybody deserves to be heard. People tell me that “America is more divided than ever”, but I’ve read my history textbooks. I know we’ve been divided before, and I know we always come back stronger. It might be as simple as listening a little more, and yelling a little less.