Just how far apart are we, anyway? Is there really such a vast divide between people, especially here in the USA? What if there was more focus on what we have in common rather than what makes us different?
Yesterday I had a great conversation with Toni Bergins, founder of JourneyDance. It had been quite a while since we caught up, so we had considerable ground to cover. I was glad to learn that she’s coming back out to the West Coast early next year for a workshop at Esalen!
We both have had the opportunity to travel more in this past year than we did in 2020, the first year of the covid lockdown. Toni observed something that I’ve noticed as well — when you get out in the world and start meeting and talking to real people from various walks of life, we’re not nearly as antagonistic as the media would have you believe.
Contrary to the impression a typical television news show or your average social network newsfeed might give you, it turns out that most folks you meet out there in the world are pretty darn nice, friendly even. Could it be that the crazy criminals and coffee-throwing kooks that garner so much outrage and generate so many views and clicks are really quite rare?
Don’t get me wrong, the divides are everywhere. But are the gulfs between us really that wide? Of course, it’s the outliers on the far sides of any issue that the get the most attention. Happily vaxxed-and-boosted vs don’t-get-near-me-with-that-zombie-shot. Those who prefer to live in an egalitarian multi-racial Western Liberal Democracy vs those who would rather submit to autocracy before giving up their tenuous position on the ladder of hierarchy.
Or the biggest controversy of all: Pineapple on Pizza? Yes or no! (Check out this cool info-graphic published by the Department of Homeland Security to see how seemingly minor controversies like this are exploited to amplify divisions and identify vulnerable people to influence on social media.)
Way back in the good old days of newspaper publishing the adage was “If it bleeds, it leads!” Nowadays that old saw may as well be updated to something like “That which conflicts gets the clicks!” In other words, in the online world of the internet, controversy equals attention, and eyeballs equal dollars in the attention economy.
Toni and I agreed, modern mainstream media seems to be modeling itself on the mindless methodology of the internet, so what gets elevated to the top spots is that which maximizes polarity and division. I sometimes peruse a column on Reddit called r/AskAnAmerican where folks from other countries inquire directly into just what makes us tick.
“Do people in the USA really need assault rifles just to get their coffee at Starbucks?” or “Does everyone scream and throw a fit if they’re asked to wear a mask in a retail store?” From the outside looking in through the tiny telescope of social media, example like this would seem to be the norm, not the exception.
But the fact is, as you probably know if you’ve ventured out into the real world lately, that no, for the vast majority of folks out there, we cooperate, we smile (with our eyes, of course), and acknowledge one another in our own way. In general, we do our best to get along. Ask a foreigner; Americans actually have a reputation for being open, friendly, helpful, and outgoing.
So what’s a good-hearted citizen to do? Well, it comes down to finding ways to close the gap. “Reach across the aisle” “Give someone a leg up” “Extend a helping hand” I find that seeking out conversations that offer the opportunity to be curious and interested in another person’s life and humanity is a great way to find common ground.
Dance, of course, is one of humanity’s great forms of universal language. For that reason, it’s one of the expressions that comes through well on the internet and social media. TikTok anyone? It seems like there is a lot of potential to transcend the screen and close the gap in person as we move into the post-pandemic era of in-person connection again.
Meanwhile? Hang in there, be positive, and share the best you have to offer far and wide! Bring your kindness and culture of contribution into the real world and you’ll be making a difference every day.
Much love till next Monday!
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine