March 2, 2014

Divisions in society impede progress

In this last, for now, in my series of columns about the growing divide among Americans over economic opportunity, I lament that most Americans still suffer from the economic crisis of our lives.

Adversity can make us stronger and more resolute. The Sputnik challenge captivated and motivated a nation and propelled us to the pinnacle of global economic supremacy.

Other times, adversity divides us, causes each of us to covet what others have, or offers us too many easy directions where we can point our finger. I fear that we have not capitalized on our most recent adversity to make us stronger. Instead, we have become weaker and more divided. It has forced us into boxes with ever-higher walls on all sides.

If we choose to look at the world from the vantage point of division, we all live in little boxes — Republicans and Democrats, Greens and Libertarians, Progressives and Conservatives, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and myriad others.

Let’s tear down those walls. Divisions isolate us from our neighbors and insulate us from the rest of humanity. If we define spirituality as believing we are part of something bigger than each of us, then humanity offers a spiritual opportunity. Our species has survived and thrived so spectacularly precisely because we recognize our interactions with each other and with our surroundings. Our acknowledged interconnectedness allows us to succeed in ways we otherwise could not. 

There was a time when social issues seemed to divide us. Now, it seems like those social issues are less important and less divisive. Our children, especially, are very comfortable in their tolerance of other’s beliefs and lifestyles.

The great divider is now economic. While there are few that live in extreme poverty any more, the gap between the richest and the rest in this country is growing wider every decade. The founding assumption of this nation was that everybody had a shot at the brass ring. That brass ring, for better or worse, is now most strongly defined by relative income. When the gap widens between the income of the top 1 percent and the middle class, the brass ring moves ever farther away.

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