Saturday, November 19, 2016

Your Positive Action in a Divided Society

What may seem positive to one person may seem negative to another.  I learned this early in life and I recently recalled being taught this lesson in junior high school.  Over the past few weeks, this lesson has been at the forefront of my thoughts as I observe and experience the intensity of the social and political climate in the United States today.

Blog to Action - Positive vs. Negative
CC0 image courtesy G. Altmann on Pixabay

My junior high school English literature class was randomly separated into small groups for a class exercise.  Each group was asked to define and imagine living in their own utopian society.  The groups started off by trying to define the desired characteristics of their societies.

After varying levels of debate and attempts to come to consensus (which was not consistently accomplished), the groups then had discussions about how to maintain their utopias.  This led to discussions about what rules to put in place.  These discussions spawned more debate about if there should even be rules and if there were going to be rules, there were continued debates about what actions to take if a rule was broken.  I could be mixing exercises, but I also believe that in the end we were asked to have our separate societies interact with one another as the teacher introduced the need to share world resources between our communities.  It was quite the thought experiment for the random groupings of teenagers.  This was especially true as our conversations were fueled by our utopian and dystopian fiction reading lists which included works such as Utopia, Herland, Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and possibly Lord of the Flies if I remember correctly.  While small, there were undercurrents of separation and divisiveness in what was purely a junior high school thought experiment.

[I did a quick search and see that Chuck Schallhorn described a similar "Utopia Exercise" on the blog Teaching High School Sociology.   As I look at legislation today, I think it's interesting to see that one collection of his students defined a "culture of the pot-heads" in his California class.  You may be interested in his thoughts and materials if you'd like to lead the same exercise.]

Blog to Action - Utopia
CC0 image courtesy G. Altmann on Pixabay

Now I look at the social and political climate in the United States (and world) today.  Separation and divisiveness in America is not new.  I grew up realizing this, yet I was generally taught to recognize and appreciate the differences of people and their diversity of thought.  Looking back, I believe that I always have lived life doing this and I see that I continue to do so as I take survey of my current social and professional circles.

While not the first time in history, I do believe that today there seems to be an increasing intensity and frequency of polarization of people around many topics.  There are even heated debates on whether or not there has been an increase of polarization or if it is just being made more visible by news and social media.  And of course there are many debates about the source(s) of the current social unrest.  I see that people are being separated by differences and pitted against one another.  People are divided on topics of race, gender, political party association, sexual orientation, financial status, national origin, religion, and more.  In many cases the separated groups have resorted to violence and have also hurled hateful words and threats at each other in real life and on social media.

It may be easy for someone to just join whatever group he or she most closely resembles and fight against those who differ.  That might make for good talk show or sensationalist news and social media stories, but I don't think that it is good for society as a whole.  [Have you ever stopped to ask yourself who does stand to benefit from increased divisiveness in the United States and around the world?]

Blog to Action - Peaceful Protest
CC0 image courtesy OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay

There are also many people who strive to put an end to the divisiveness and separation.  I believe that their voices are also becoming louder and more pervasive.  Since I began Blog To Action a few months ago, I have also encouraged readers to take positive action now with hopes of growing a more positive society.

Today, I take pause.  It does not feel sufficient to me to solely be kind to someone or to just regularly say thank you to others.  While activities like peaceful protesting (not rioting) may lead to the start of conversations between groups, I do not feel as though that alone is sufficient to drive positive change.  I pause to better understand what my next positive action will be.  I do so recognizing that what I may consider to be positive may be considered negative by another.  For me, it feels like that junior high school utopia exercise is now playing out in real life.

So I ask you: as you consider your own utopia, what will your next positive action be?

I look forward to your response as I consider my own.

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