We can thank Donald Trump for letting the proverbial cat out of the bag: America is a deeply polarized nation.
This polarization doesn’t exist solely around policy arguments such as taxes or bank regulation. Neither does it stop at philosophical arguments, such as stem cell research or marijuana legalization. Not even at a woman’s right to choose, or prison reform, or climate change. Honestly, I wish it did. I’d love to go back to the good ol’ days when we all laughed as a senator claimed a snowball’s existence proved climate change was a hoax. Sigh.
No, the polarization we see now (though it was always there) is far more existential, splitting Americans and non-Americans alike into two groups: who is deserving and who isn’t.
Who is deserving, we can glean from the subtext, should have access to jobs, health care and educational opportunities. Who is deserving will not be subject to police scrutiny or brutality. Who is deserving need not fear family separation through either deportation or detention. Who is deserving still has a shot at the American Dream.
Who isn’t won’t. Who isn’t might not have a shot at a middle-class life, let alone the American Dream.
Not everyone was surprised to see such a deep crevice split our country. Not everyone turned off the growing rhetoric in “news” sources like Breitbart, or dismissed the slow but steady creep of hate speech and crimes. Not all of us were confident that the human rights trajectory we were on under President Obama would continue upward, unimpeded.
But some people were. Some were shocked awake to discover the deteriorated state of how we treat and think of one another. Some didn’t believe this level of anger and bitterness could even exist within our fellow Americans. They just couldn’t see it.
Maybe they couldn’t see it, because like the viral image of a dog sipping coffee and chanting “This is fine” while the world burns around him, the spiritual community was chanting “We are all one,” even as the divisions stretched, deepened, and eventually cracked open in November 2016.
Of all the groups to place blame on, the spiritual community would seem to be the last. Mine is not a popular viewpoint, I’m certain. But my words are not meant to be a finger point in an already accusatory society, but rather an observation and a question.
Let us consider: is it possible that our belief in oneness proved to be a primary factor in blinding us from seeing the growing angst? Was oneness a sweet lullaby that allowed us to see the world as we wanted to see it, rather than as it was? Because as we chanted in unified bliss, we missed much of our fellow Americans’ growing pain. We didn’t see or hear the rising fear and anger. We ignored the fact that many, rightly or wrongly, felt left behind, belittled, ignored.
This is no time for blame or regret, nor is that my intent. What’s important now is asking ourselves: Were we wrong about the concept of oneness? Is humanity far more divided than it is united? And where do we go from here?
Our oneness, we must see now, is not in how we view the world. Neither is it at the level of ethics, values or hopes for the future. Our oneness exists at the place we have most sorely overlooked, at our most center of centers. That is, it exists not in how we live our lives, but in how we feel our lives.
Human emotions, including fear, anger, jealousy and disappointment, may manifest differently within each of us, and under different circumstances, but they feel the same. No matter how divided we may seem, our emotional life reminds us that we are, still, all one, in these ways and more: The way love fills us. The way loss aches. Our hunger to feel worthy. Our yearning for belonging, connection and intimacy.
And finally: Our wish to not be so painfully divided.
Now that our divisions are visible, our belief in our inherent oneness is more important than ever. It must not cease. But, like our spiritual growth itself, it does need to evolve.