I don’t usually do this but….

I’m supposed to be writing an essay right now. However, I can’t. My brain and my heart are simultaneously aching and numb. This post has been fomenting for a long, long time. I kept telling myself I don’t need to jump into that morass. I kept trying to remind myself that I have things which need my time, energy and attention. But I can’t focus my brain on those other things because this aching, numb, frustrated place in my heart demands attention. So I have a choice, I either write or I try to ignore. The latter doesn’t seem like much of an option any longer.

So I’m going to write this post. It reflects my thoughts in this moment. It will offend people, on both sides of the political aisle. I reserve the right to not engage in vitriol or inflammatory argumentation.

This post is not about the epidemic of school shootings in America. It is not about gun control or gun rights. It’s about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about the #MeToo/#TimesUp movement in America. It is not about the double standard that inculcates gender inequality across our society. It’s about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about Standing Rock. It is not about Flint, Michigan. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about #BlackLivesMatter. It is not about #BlueLivesMatter. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about LGBTQ rights. It is not about the definition of marriage. It is not about transgender bathrooms. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about Republicans and Democrats. It is not about gerrymandering. It is not about voter rights. It is not about lobbyists. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about health care reform. It is not about Social Security. It is not about Veterans. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about climate change. It is not about protecting our National Parks. It is not about oil dependence or alternative energy. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about abortion. It is not about pro-life. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about funding education. It is not about standardized testing. It is not about the teacher shortage. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about jobs or economic growth. It is not about minimum wage or median income. It is not about taxes. It is not about the rich. It is not about the poor. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about immigrants. It is not about Dreamers or DACA. It is not about deportation. It is not about citizenship. It is not about a wall. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about Conservatives or Liberals. It is not about right-wing or left-wing. It is not about fake news. It is not about sound bites or tweets. It is about the lack of productive conversation.

This post is not about any one of those issues. This post IS about ALL of those issues. This post IS about the lack of productive conversations.

As a society, as a people, we are facing difficult conversations regarding so many topics at so many levels. My social media feeds are a neverending litany of confrontation – not conversation. I’ve sat and watched this boiling pot of anger, frustration and vitriol with a paralysis that has prevented me from joining in the foray because I sense the futility.

There are so many issues to be addressed. Where does one start? How does one engage in a way that creates solutions instead of stalemates?

Being out of the country at the moment lends an additional odd perspective to what I see and hear coming from America. My international friends, UK and otherwise, ask me questions. I am at a loss to respond. I can explain social-political factors. I can discuss various party lines. I can agree/disagree with what they are hearing and seeing in the news. But I cannot answer the fundamental question:

Why are there no productive conversations? Why are there no solutions?

We have reached a point where division is the norm. Anyone not with us is against us. IS OTHER. We do not respect what is different: socially, religiously, sexually, racially, economically or ethnically. Respect is not the same as accept. You can respect a person’s right to live a certain way or believe a certain idea even if you do not accept that idea as truth/reality. Respect is not based on agreement. It is based on acknowledging another person is entitled to their ideas/beliefs just as you are entitled to your own. Since we do not respect we are not genuinely concerned for anyone beyond ourselves. We are merely a huge group of people who happen to be living in the same general vicinity. Society is rooted in the Latin for “socius” which embodied the concepts of alliance, sharing, partnership, unity and fellowship. We are no longer a society.

Compromise is the nature of human interaction. Solid stable healthy personal relationships only flourish with compromise by both parties involved. The same is true of society. We are not all going to get what we want all of the time. However, we are at a point where we cannot even discuss the concept of compromise, let alone actually come to productive solutions that benefit the majority while protecting the rights of minorities.

So much of this conversational paralysis is rooted in fear. Fear of other. Fear of what we don’t understand or what is unfamiliar/different. Fear of loosing our own in preference to others. Fear of infringement on our “entitlements.” Fear of what is “sinful.” Fear of reprisal. Fear of injustice.

Some of those fears, for some people, are validly based on actual experiences; but for the vast majority our fears are unfounded. Either way the only way to make progress is to acknowledge our fears. Only then can people from different points of view, different experiences, different beliefs, and different ideologies productively converse to create actual solutions.

If, while reading through that list of issues above, you felt your hackles rise over a particular topic or sentence (or two or three or four), can I ask you to return to that idea and ask yourself what made your senses tingle? Is there a fear there that needs acknowledging so that you can foster productive conversations with those around you? Those who might believe differently? Can you challenge yourself to read information outside your sphere of belief? Can you actively seek out someone who holds the opposing viewpoint and discuss the issue face to face over coffee and ask genuine questions and genuinely listen for authentic answers? Can you be more concerned with understanding their view and experience than you can with projecting the “correctness” of your own? Can you respect their ideas as their own, without feeling threatened? Can you accept and acknowledge the person, even if you do not accept their ideology?

We have a long list of problems that need solving. The current social environment reveals what happens when productive conversations cease. Nothing. No solutions. No improvement. No progress. Nothing.

To solve complex problems we must first be capable of productive conversations. We do not have to agree. But we have to refuse to allow our differences to separate us indefinitely.