On the brink of election season, it already feels like the tension in our country has reached a peak unparalleled in my lifetime. This pandemic has had a way of exposing what is already true regarding some of the brokenness within our systems and certainly within our social fabric. In the isolation of quarantine, stillness and solitude have perhaps created space for healing.
It seems that today’s polarization has pushed many of us into self-constructed echo-chambers. We consume the same biased news. We follow people on social media who confirm our own opinions. We belong to communities that elevate conformity over curiosity. This is all comfortable for our egos. But it is truly bizarre most are convinced they have the right answers at a time when we each have access to more information the world has ever seen. That should make us humble, not certain. As Thomas Merton wrote in New Seeds of Contemplation, “What we desire is not the ‘truth’ so much as ‘to be in the right.’ What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness.”
Our division is fueled all the more by the explosion of social media this past decade, an arena that has become increasingly mob-like with its shaming, overgeneralizing, and labeling; a new era of yellow journalism that profits off of polarization, trading truth for terror, objectivity for agenda; and a president who, no matter how you feel about his policies, stokes the already-consuming fire with his divisive rhetoric and bullying antics. As my friar friend recently told me, part of Lectio Divina is “reading the signs of the times.”
The effects on our discourse have been taxing. Instead of being animated by grace, empathy, and unbiased curiosity toward those who are most different from ourselves, we are instead motivated by rightness and self-righteousness. This ever-stirring madness has taken an unprecedented toll on our mental health and has negatively impacted many of our relationships. It seems we’ve begun defining people by their identity and their ideas, rather than the vibrancy of their hearts and minds—the diverse fullness of one’s soul, their character.
So how do we move forward in the midst of intense divisiveness? How do we pierce through the madness of the noise?