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Opponents, Not Enemies: Bridging the Great Divide in America

Arguably one of the finest moments at the end of any championship is when the players, covered in blood and sweat, turn to their opponents and thank them for the challenge. When Michael Jordan embraced the other greats after defeating them like they were brothers, crying tears of admiration for their commitment to winning, he showed the world the meaning of man enough.

So why doesn’t that extend to more parts of daily life in America lately?

There’s been a singular conversation America hasn’t wanted to have with itself, but the last few years — the last few weeks especially — have started that long conversation for us. The contrast between being opponents and enemies, and the possible distinction that, as the Great Divide of America widens, whether or not our differences are what unite us or tear us apart.

In my opinion, it’s both.

In the divided states of America, the last four years have felt imprisoning for many who have had to sit by and watch true colors show through. White versus Black, red versus blue, arguments dominating such a large portion of our daily lives that, collectively, the world got a clear picture of what America now represents at large — division, racism and fear.

And many of those same people spent the last four years preparing to make it right and move in a positive direction, earn back some respect and make a clear and decisive statement that we are not those things.

In the words of Van Jones, what we need isn’t a political victory. We need a moral victory, but so far it’s been lost.

On the other hand, you have people from a lot of the same areas who believe in two things: their God and their president, perhaps occasionally confusing the two. These people spent the last four years feeling free and liberated to be their very selves, what America at its core means to them, even if millions of people didn’t agree. And the very idea of losing that freedom meant their lives were being stolen from them.

The problem here is both sides believe they are — without a single doubt — one hundred percent in the right, and that the other is completely in the wrong. It’s not our job to say which is right, but it has become crystal clear that, without compromise and without understanding and compassion, that’s how opponents become sworn enemies.

And those heartfelt embraces at the end of the game, they go away. So how do we make it right?

More Man Enough: The Road to Empathy & Moving Forward Together

Image: Envato Elements

If the things that build a party are simultaneously setting them apart from others, creating polarized teams that leave no middle ground and hatred for the opposing side, then we have to find the middle ground. What do we have in common? What can we all look to in our daily reality, rather than a reality show?

Finding the Middle Ground

We may not all agree on carrying guns in public, closing the door to outsiders or treating the environment like a trash bin, but those are not necessarily things we can change in one another. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try, but instead of focusing all our energy on the hatred for our differences, focus on what is shared.

Many of us have mothers and fathers, and many of us have lost mothers and fathers. We grew up dreaming of becoming astronauts and now we’re watching in amazement as new worlds are discovered. We love our holidays with our loved ones and eating way too much, and we’re all upset to lose some of that tradition this year. We all love, and we all lose the things we love. When we do something good, we feel good. When we do something bad, we feel bad (unless you’re a total sociopath). We all bend and some of us break, but we’re always there for our fellow man.

One of the greatest moments for mankind, not too dissimilar from a championship, is when things go bad, that’s when we double down and surprise people. I remember getting in a bad car accident as a teen, and the first thing I saw was everyone come running out of their houses. It wasn’t red versus blue. It was Black and white. And as a team, they pulled me from the wreckage.

That’s where we are right now at large — in a bit of wreckage. And it’s not going to do anyone now or anyone in the future any good to stand divided across the nation as the things we love fall apart. What we’re best at is helping each other keep it together when the world is falling apart.

So don’t let one man or a silly mask stand in your way. We are not the colors of our skin, nor the colors of our party. We are one man and one woman, and it is our God-given right to fight for one thing and one thing only — each other.

Holding the Middle Ground

The next time you feel the division creeping in and the gap widening between you and your neighbor, your friend or even complete strangers, don’t focus on those things that put a wedge between us and keep us from coming together. Focus on what we all share and hold dear — freedom, love and coming together.

Hold the middle ground.

Not only should we embrace these ideas, but we should spare a little empathy and compassion for those who might have their reasons for seeing things a different way. If we come to understand that much, we’ve come a long, long way. Because there’s nothing more boring than everyone being all the same. It’s our differences that make us special, and it’s those differences — hopefully healthy and teachable ones — that make us America.

There is no party all by ourselves, so remember to leave the door open.

Bring it in. And hold the middle ground.

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Cover: Twenty20photos (Envato Elements)