Recently I watched the online premiere of the documentary “Reunited States of America” made by executive producers Van Jones and Meghan McCain. The premiere featured many people and groups who are working to bridge the divide through conversations and actions across the whole country. For someone like me, who has worked in conflict transformation, I was very pleased to learn about the many groups that are crossing boundaries to try to understand each other’s point of views and develop empathy for the “other side”. These grassroots bridgebuilding dialogues are key to our survival as a United States of America, hence the name Reunited States of America. Whether they are sufficient will only be determined by how earnestly we ordinary people embrace it.
As Van Jones said in the premiere: we must do this or avoid becoming another Rwanda or Syria where the whole society is destroyed. And it reminded me of a letter from a Bosnian member of our Jerrahi Mosque – this woman got COVID and everyone on the WhatsApp group was consoling her; she in turn reminded them that this COVID quarantine is nothing compared to the 4 years of quarantine she lived through without water, food, electricity and unable to leave her apartment building in Bosnia. She reminded everyone of the day over 8,000 men and boys were slaughtered in one day in 1995 by the Serbs, while the UN peacekeeping force looked the other way. And it was a horrible reminder of how bad things can get when societies disintegrate.
These are sobering thoughts and they urge us to figure out a different way to be than we have been so far, as we are all responsible for the mess. This is a hard pill to swallow, as we feel we are right and good and the other side is wrong and worse. And given the impeachment hearings, where we continue to see truth denied in the interest of power, it makes it even harder to calm our anger and separate the politicians exploiting their positions for power from the people associated with the same party. One of the key messages of the film is that we have to cross our community boundaries and listen to those on the other side- the key is “ordinary people”, not the media or the politicians. We have to stop generalizing, and lumping leaders and followers together. We have to try to understand what the fears are that are driving the anger and the hate. We must treat each other with respect and dignity. Clearly, leaders, vested interests, politicians, media and social media have deepened the divisions. We have to tune them out, learn to talk and solve problems together and give peace a chance as John Lennon said.
The movie website for the documentary also features tools for us as individuals and communities to learn and use in our daily life, and lists the groups that are already working on bridgebuilding. So check these out as they make so much sense. These tools remind us of the universal law that: all change starts with changing ourselves first, and then working with others to defuse and calm the waters.
And finally, I loved the pledge they have on their website https://reunitedstates.tv/watch
commit to the mission of healing America.
I will resist demonizing those I disagree with
and instead listen to understand their concerns.
I embrace my responsibility to reduce hostility,
because I believe our shared future depends on it.”