Unifying the Divide
Bill Cottringer

A house divided against itself cannot stand. ~Abraham Lincoln.

It is ironic that our country, which was founded on rebellion against divisive principles, ended up as a divided house itself starting with slavery and bringing us to today’s Great Divide of polarized ideologies, beliefs, and values. Now that we have successfully managed to evolve into such a polarizing, divisive split in our country with opposing beliefs, values, and perspectives, it may be about time for some reconciling unification in our common pursuit of improving the quality of life for us all, while experiencing authentic happiness and learning spiritual wisdom. The journey to reconciliation starts with understanding the real problem behind the Great Divide and ends with all of us practicing the sensible cures of realizations and practices which are readily available. Although selfish thinking got us into this mess, we can only selflessly behave our way out of it. This effort first involves understanding how we all helped create the painful polarizing divide we are part of, and then managing bad habits and practicing new ones to heal it.

Understanding the Problem

There are certain inherent polar differences in the way we all think, feel and act, coming from a combination of genetics and social conditioning. We develop, express, and live our chosen beliefs, viewpoints, and values in our individual efforts to improve the quality of our earthly experience, and reap the benefit of being genuinely happy in doing so. But pursue the common purpose in many different and contrary ways, getting many different results. In dealing with others and life in general, we can either be: (a) hopeful, optimistic, positive, and trusting, or (b) hopeless, pessimistic, negative, and untrusting, or (c) somewhere in between, depending upon the situation, issue, and our past experience.

This major viewpoint leads us to either feel we have to accept reality with all its limitations or try to change the parts we don’t like. And our acceptance or desire to change things can be flavored with the different approaches of being passive, aggressive, or assertive, according to what our experiences tell us works best. We don’t like to be controlled, and yet we often try to control others. Now this is where the natural polar differences stop and something else starts, which is very artificial and totally unnecessary. But it is something that is pervasive and leading us down a rabbit hole most of the time, and definitely needs to be exposed.

What we do after learning about the natural differences that have existed all along, is the real problem beneath all the painful symptoms on the surface. We overdo things by adding another layer of polarization on top of the inherent and learned basic differences that divide us. We have experiences in life, but we assign qualities to these experiences from our judgment of them into more polar opposites. Here comes the opposite qualities of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, true vs. false, and painful vs. pleasurable, just making things more complex, volatile, and ambiguous than they need to be. We have successfully created a new reality of truths, but this new reality is more imaginary than real, and it is getting in the way of our ability to see past what we are looking at.

In this sense Epictetus was correct when he said, “It is not the things in life which bother us, but our opinions about these things.” And after this second level of polarization, our communication worsens the three main divides with us and life, between us and others, and within us and ourselves. This happens with our assumptions of even further qualities like superiority, certainty, and control. Now there is one important caveat to effective problem-solving. Every appealing solution may bring a new set of problems with it. So maybe curing the divide is too ambitious, whereas managing it will give us a chance to plan for the additional problems that may be coming with the divide-healing solutions.

Managing the Problem

The most sensible way to reconcile the divide involves a package of thinking realizations and behavioral practices. Here are a few important mindful realizations that can help unification:

• Human self-consciousness has left us all with divided minds which separate all things into this or that categories—thinking vs. feeling, mind vs. body, science vs religion, pro-government vs. anti-government, simple vs. complex, destiny vs. free will, Republicans vs. Democrats, certainty vs. uncertainty, good vs. evil, and so on ad infinitum. We just take this process too far by taking everything apart and forgetting to put the parts back together again. At the end of the day, all opposites are really just different sides to the same coin.

• The greatest healing force is the mysterious energy of empathy, best defined as the profound experience of a loving, close connection with others and the rest of life, as the path away from separation insecurity and back towards unifying security. We can’t find empathy because it has to find us. For empathy to find us, we have to quit trying to capture it for personal use and just accept it, by raising our material world consciousness to the fringes of the higher spiritual realm, where absolute truths reside and become more knowable.

• We don’t need to do anything about the natural differences in viewpoints, beliefs, and values that we experience with others. But there are four things we do need to stop doing here: (a) stop judging the quality of our experiences, so as to spend more time getting to understand their benefit and enjoy the experiences themselves more fully (b) stop defending and arguing about these differences (b) stop assuming our own perspectives, beliefs and values are superior and truer than others, and (c) stop taking our preferred side so seriously with a do or die attitude. We just need to have more fun playing our role and enjoying the colorful differences within the full meaning of the universal trinity vales of diversity, equality, and inclusion.

• Although judgment is a very natural human tendency, it always has very unnatural consequences, especially in aggravating the existing divide. We can’t tell our minds to not think someone else is wrong or a bad person, but we can control our mouths from imposing this unwanted and unwelcomed information. And, although it is inevitable to experience bouts of depression and anxiety at times, being depressed about being depressed or anxious about being anxious, just worsens the divide between mental wellness and mental illness. Feeling more pain about pain just compounds the pain unnecessarily, making it appear worse than it is. When we spend less time judging and criticizing and more time understanding and learning, much of the pain seems to dissolve.
• There is one belief associated with the polarizing divide, which does more harm than good. The is the belief by one side of the divide that the other side is basically the enemy—being inherently bad, wrong, untrustworthy, incalcitrant, and motivated by harmful intentions to dominate and control the other side into submission to obey their superior views and values. On the other hand, a healing perspective that does more good than harm, is in believing that all of the human race has the common purpose of growing and unifying our spiritual wisdom to improve the quality of all our lives together here on earth, maybe as preparation for what is to come in the afterlife.

• The most productive way to understand a problem is to see and deal with it as it is now, forgetting about how it has appeared in the past or what it may look like in the future. Being more mindful of the problem at hand, gets rid of unnecessary and irrelevant information, to focus more on what is most important—the simplicity just on the other side of complexity, which Oliver Wendell Holmes said he would risk his life for.
• If empathy is the greatest positive force, then fear is the greatest negative force. All extreme, destructive behavior becomes an option when the stress of a person’s inner hell of fears and overwhelming sense of being helpless and hopeless in not having the ability to control things he or she thinks should be controllable, crosses the threshold into volatile distress.

• Although time itself is a compelling illusion—which is actually created more as a result of our conscious interactions with life, rather than the container in which they seem to occur—good timing in anything is everything. This is especially true in discerning opportunity from danger, seeing the point of no return before it comes and goes, and knowing with whom, when, where, how, and why we need to share our pieces of the big picture puzzle.

• All that we think we know isn’t always so, but rather often just assumed as such. And compared to what we really know for sure, apart from unverified assumptions, there is much, much more to know. This humble admission is very refreshing and liberating. It also takes away all need for defensiveness related to insecurity and vulnerability. At the end of the day, we are all very insecure, using our store of hard-earned personal knowledge as security blankets, at least until we understand the futility of doing this.

Here are some important behaviors we all may want to consider practicing more:

• Start communicating the things that heal the divide and open up good, two-way communication. These involve conveying values like acceptance, equality, freedom, provisionalism, and empathy, while avoiding the things that aggravate the divide further and shut down communication, such as conveying judgment, superiority, control, certainty, and insensitivity. Improved communication also involves active listening to understand rather than just to give a clever response.

• Exercising our rights and freedoms responsibly and assertively without needlessly offending others by imposing what we think, feel, or believe, especially in a passive or aggressive manner.

• Shifting from the traditional competitive, win-lose mentality model which widens the divide further, to the newer cooperative, win-win one, which closes the gap. This is also an effective way to dissolve fears and increase empathy. And if we need a compromise between these two perspectives, we can still compete against ourselves and cooperate with others.

• Embracing and engaging in the three Cs of cooperation, collaboration, and compromise to solve solvable problems and manage the rest. We each have a small piece of the puzzle and sharing what we have for us all to get to the finish line together, makes better sense than debating the value of whatever small piece we have to use to dominate and get ahead of others.

• Seeing past what we are looking at in becoming true believers, in believing past exclusive religious dogmas to see that we all have a common intent of inclusive unification. We can only do this by exchanging the fears, insecurities, and sense of helplessness and hopelessness we are burdened with, from our self-conscious separation form others, especially these who we see as enemies, for the real security of being connected to each other in divine-like consciousness.

To solve the human equation, we need to add love, subtract hate, multiply good, and divide between truth and error. ~Janet Coleman.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is retired Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, but still teaches criminal justice classes and practices business success coaching and sport psychology. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Because Organization, an intervention program in human trafficking. Bill is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Critical Thinking (Authorsden); Thoughts on Happiness, Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.). Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away and Christian Psychology for Everyday Use (Covenant Books, Inc.). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (206)-914-1863 or ckuretdoc@comcast.net