Where does all this end?

by Steve Harrison

Like everyone, I am deeply disturbed by what I see play out on our TV screens. Not since the 60’s does it seem like American society has been in such tumult. It seems at every turn there is suspicion and friction, distrust and fissure. It’s hard to keep a certain degree of humor, let alone one’s mental equilibrium. 

I wonder and worry that I am becoming too political, too jaded, too paranoid, too doubtful of not only our society but people in our community, and in my friendship circle. Every comment gets filtered through my political lens, as I wonder if I should challenge a reaction, a reflection, a belief, or a statement. It is exhausting. 

Cognitive dissonance has become a common state in modern society. Frequently, we have to suspend our beliefs to do someone else’s bidding or to just get along. It certainly happened in my life as a teacher, and it happened occasionally when I ran my art gallery. I’m sure it happens regularly for those people in the corporate world. Few of us have the luxury to always speak our minds, worried about the financial or emotional ramifications that stating our beliefs might have. This surely explains why some proprietors fail to ask patrons to don a mask. Perhaps it is a way that capitalism keeps us in check, not letting us get lost in the quagmire of political, religious, or philosophical ideologies, helping us get along and build an enviable world. 

But, I’m disturbed by what I am seeing on TV and social media and its impact on my psychic wellbeing, as well as my love and compassion for friends and family. Too often I am wondering whether I need to root someone out of my life because of alternative facts or perceptions of right and wrong. And yet, what else do we really have but our principles, our belief systems developed over decades of life and observation, our creed and our culture? Aren’t they the very essence of what makes us, us?

I will show my hand here. Can I have a Trump supporter as a friend? Can they have me as one? Is there something that a person can do or say or think that just goes too far? Can I share a life with someone who doesn’t see life the way I do, or, more to the point, share the same set of facts that I do? Can we agree that neo-Nazis or their sympathizers are reprehensible? And that children in cages don’t align with family values? Should there be room in the tent for people whose magical thinking is so fundamentally different that we don’t share the same navigational landmarks? If we don’t, how do we stay safe? How do we get back to a safe harbor?

But I fear that the issues playing out on nightly news challenge our state of cognitive dissonance to the breaking point. The belief that an election is illegitimate unless our candidate wins is troubling. The lack of trust in our checks and balances dangerous. To want to justify the tearing down of the tenets and houses of our democracy because we can’t accept the outcome is a place we can’t let ourselves go. We blame others for all of our misfortunes or discomforts. We edit out all forms of disagreement or challenges to our ideas by hunkering down into our Fox or MSNBC foxholes. We live in a perpetual bubble of our making. Where does it all end? 

The Civil War will be different this time. It will be the subtle erosion of everything and everyone we trust. We must guard against becoming so radicalized that there is no common ground. There are limits we must abide, to protect others and to protect ourselves.


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