Recently, multiple news reports indicated that Russian government backed organizations purchased $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook. There may be more, but these are the ones that have been identified so far.
We are now learning about some of the content of their ads and the populations they targeted. Many of the details are still unclear, but we are seeing one factor. The ads seem to have the intent of dividing us from each other. They picked sensitive or hot-button issues, and then posted extreme stories promoting both sides.
For some time now, I have expressed the concern that our country has become more polarized than ever. We are dramatically divided on so many issues; Democrats versus Republicans, Conservatives versus Liberals, race versus race, Trump lovers versus Trump haters. These positions have divided neighbors, friends, and family members to the point where some are not even speaking to each other. I know of family members who have not spoken in many months after a political disagreement.
Our divisions are deepened by our perception that our side is completely right and the other side is completely wrong. We stereotype the other side as ignorant, stupid, selfish or evil. We don’t trust the other side. They become the enemy.
Perceptions become extreme when we limit our communications to our side. We talk to those who share our position about how wrong the other side is. The negative statements are often accompanied by anger, dismissive laughter, sneers or expressions of disgust. We don’t really listen or try to understand the view of those on the other side. Even when we do communicate with someone expressing an opposing view, we don’t really listen because we are too busy formulating our argument. We become even more entrenched in our position.
What if we remembered that those on the other side are our fellow Americans, our neighbors, friends and family members? What if we honored them as human beings, who simply hold a different opinion? What if we engaged in a civil conversation and actually listened? We might find that those on the other side did have reasons for their opinions. We might be able to disagree, while still respecting the person. We might be able to work together on more issues.
I certainly don’t claim to know the answers to our current issues. I do believe those answers will only be found when we work together. I believe the path lies in real communication, respect for each other, negotiation and compromise.
There is still much to learn about the recent Russian actions and their intentions. But, if their intent was to deepen America’s internal divisions, they are on to something. They seem to understand that they don’t need to attack us. They just need to help us attack each other. We have to choose whether or not we will let that happen.