A friend of mine recently posted Canned Heat’s song “Let’s Work Together” and it has been running through my head ever since. One verse and chorus read:

People, when things go wrong

As they sometimes will

And the road you travel

It stays all uphill

Let’s work together

Come on, come on

Let’s work together, ah

You know together we will stand

Every boy, girl, woman and man

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? It is a concept we can all agree would be helpful, regardless of politics or theology, but expecting “them” to come around to “our” way of thinking is where we keep getting stuck.

As I followed the comments on the live streaming of the recent joint meeting of the Rome City and Floyd County commissions concerning public safety in the face of rising cases of COVID-19, I was saddened to see the vitriol and anger that so many people were feeling on polarized sides of the debate about how we should best manage the situation for our community.

Unfortunately, our already greatly divided political perspectives are playing out in this discussion across the country, and it is causing people to point fingers and lay blame at party lines when what we are talking about is a human problem, not a political problem.

If you read my column often you know how much I love a good TED Talk. I cannot say often enough how much these talks help me put things in perspective and motivate me to the potential that exists in all situations.

One of my favorites that I have referenced here before and speaks to my point today is one titled “The moral roots of liberals and conservatives” by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. He proposes that there is a critical moral balance that occurs between the liberal perspective and conservative perspective that we need to maintain in order to survive and thrive as a society. In other words, we need each other; we need the great debate that occurs between these two theologies. It was sincerely eye-opening for me and I hope you will look it up and watch it.

Another TED Talk I recently discovered, titled “A conservative’s plea: Let’s work together” shows author and social scientist Arthur Brooks taking a similar position, in fact referencing Haidt’s findings, and I found his thoughts from a more conservative perspective to be very enlightening. I hope you will agree.

In his talk, Brooks references a 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that looks at the phenomenon known as “political motive asymmetry” in which people assume that their ideology is based in love, while their opponents’ ideology is based in hate.

It is a fairly common occurrence in world politics (think Palestine vs. Israel) but what the study’s authors sadly found is that the majority of Republicans and Democrats in America were suffering from political motive asymmetry, believing that the opposition is based in hate, and it has only gotten worse as time has progressed.

Brooks points out that the problem with this perspective is that it creates a dynamic in which it is completely impossible to progress as a society. As long as we are stuck in this mindset of hatred we cannot move forward, and we’ve got to find a way to work together in order to succeed.

Brooks gave his talk in 2016 at the height of the last presidential election, and was speaking specifically about how we must unite both political perspectives in order to pull people out of poverty. I found, however, that his thoughts were inspiring to me for how we look at the current crisis we find ourselves facing, a world-wide pandemic that will have health and economic repercussions for the foreseeable future, no matter which side you believe is the most important.

How can we possibly bridge the gap between us to find real solutions?

Brooks offers several action items for creating the critical and productive paradigm of a more flexible ideology, and I want to share them with you.

First of all, he points out that simply tolerating people who disagree with us is not good enough. He believes we have to embrace the idea that we actually need the people who disagree with us in order to begin to create the change that is needed to thrive.

Secondly, Brooks calls for each of us to strive to be the people who blur those lines of conflict rather than entrenching them. He calls for us to become the folks that are hard to classify in the topic of divide. He suggests that we all need to strive for less predictability in our ideology.

It is only by utilizing these tools to break the gridlock that, “We might just be able to take the ghastly holy war of ideology that we’re suffering under and turn it into a competition of ideas,” he says. It is only by breaking this gridlock that we can begin to realize that our big differences aren’t really that different after all.

Our common goal is to navigate this difficult time in a way that ensures success in the health of our fellow citizens as well as our economy and it is only by coming together that we can reach those solutions.

Should we be angry with the state of our leadership in this crisis? Yes, we should. As the film that Rome International Film Festival arranged to screen twice in the last year posed it in the title, we are grossly “Unrepresented” in this country, as polarized politics consistently has us scrambling to stake claims rather than seek solutions.

The best way for us to break that cycle is to stop looking at each crisis as an “us vs. them” scenario and recognize that we need each other to bring about solutions for all.

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, let’s work together, come on, come on, let’s work together.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

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