A glance at recent headlines might leave the impression that much of the world is decoupling. Nations are cutting ties with China over a virus outbreak. Last week Britain split from the European Union. In the U.S., Democrats and Republicans are more divided than ever as impeachment comes to an end and primary voting starts for the 2020 elections.
Even the British royal family has its “Megxit” as Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, depart for North America.
Yet what is often missing in such stories are those on one side who recognize the suffering of the other and try to repair the breach with a measure of respect and compassion, even a helping hand.
Take Brexit, which has left a certain bitterness on either side of the English Channel.
In an open letter to the British people, French President Emmanuel Macron said “you are not leaving Europe” despite the lowering of the Union Jack outside the European Parliament on Jan. 31. He praised Britons as influential players in Europe. He offered to deepen ties on security and open a “new chapter … based on the strength of our unrivaled ties.” He predicted Britain and continental Europe may end up closer than can be imagined.
In June the French leader plans to award London with the Legion of Honor in hopes of reviving cross-channel ties. Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU seeks an “unprecedented partnership” with Britain as the two sides start talks to negotiate a new trade relationship.
As for China, which faces criticism of its response to the coronavirus outbreak as well as extreme isolation as airline travel becomes restricted, many world leaders are stepping up to offer sympathy and aid.
President Donald Trump, for example, offered “any help that is necessary.” The EU made a similar offer. South Korea, Singapore, Japan, and several other countries are sending assistance. “If we help China deal with this, I think the problem becomes smaller for everyone else,” said Singapore’s health minister, Gan Kim Yong.
In the U.S., where partisanship seems at a peak, a number of countervailing forces are at work to challenge the nation’s rigid binary politics and to end a cycle of political revenge.
Dozen of nonpartisan citizen groups are trying to improve public discourse with humility and listening, even a sharing of personal vulnerability to modern life. New third parties such as Serve America Movement are getting on ballots. And as the Senate moves to acquit Mr. Trump, some senators plan to repair the damage to their institution by reaching across the aisle.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to the extreme polarization comes from the rise of independent voters. Their numbers are at a near-record high of 45%, up from 38% last October. While many independents lean left or right, they represent the possibility of a dialogue across differences and the exchange of ideas instead of insults. Many try to find the best in an opponent’s opinion and even be thankful for it.
Gratitude for those who disagree with you, writes scholar Arthur C. Brooks in his 2019 book, “Love Your Enemies,” is the best “contempt killer.” It shows respect and dignity which might then be reciprocated. Gratitude, generosity, humility, and listening can help recouple a people who are divided or end ruptures between nations.
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