Saturday, June 22, 2013

Polarization is a Choice

 A photo of the Beşiktaş Forum,
a nightly neighborhood discussion
happening in my neighborhood park
and twenty other parks throughout Istanbul
where citizens discuss the future of the protests
and the future of their country.
I feel deeply lucky to have experienced the Turkish protests and to watch citizen engagement on a level never before experienced in Turkey. I plan to write about the experience, but frankly, it has been so interesting, I couldn't even tear myself away from watching it long enough to write about it. It makes me appreciate that real journalists get that done and do it on deadline too.

As an expat, I am constantly reflecting on how events in the country I am living in are related to the events from my country of origin. One of the most astounding experiences of the whole Gezi Park protests has been the level of polarization (which I wrote about here in my last post).

How polarized has it been? So polarized that the Turkish government talks about bringing in the military to restore order. Citizens discuss the possibility that there could be a civil war. I thought that I had experienced polarization in America during George W. Bush's Presidency, but this makes the Bush Presidency look like child's play. Even the clothes are different, as if each team has a uniform.

Shockingly, it wasn't until I watched this play out among the Turks that it occurred to me that polarization is a choice. When the American people were polarized, we allowed ourselves to be manipulated into doing that. We didn't have to buy that, but we did. We chose to respond to manipulative language and to allow ourselves to demonize our fellow citizens, even though we know in our hearts that what makes our country great is the range of contributions from everyone.

How boring and "trailing edge" Americans must have been during that period. One constant verbal or online sledgehammer to each other for eight years. It's so unproductive and dehumanizing. As we, the American people, beat up on each other by choosing polarized news sources and polarized web sites, other countries have gotten on with business while we spent our billions indulging in a war in Iraq America wishes it could forget. In a globalized world, the country that chooses to be divided, falls behind.

If I could offer advice to my Turkish friends based on my eight years of living through the George W. Bush presidency it would be to understand that polarizing language is manipulative language. If you buy into it, you're allowing yourself to be manipulated. Take care of your personal relationships, invite your most opposite philosophically-different friend over for dinner and break bread together. Just because dialogue doesn't occur at your highest level, doesn't mean dialogue can't occur at the citizen level.
(the meal where Muslims break their fast
after a day of no food or water)
Official White House Photo
by Chuck Kennedy
Breaking bread together is such a fundamental practice. That's why it means so much to me to see my President celebrate Ramadan or Diwali or Passover. During that meal time, my President is contemplating and learning from someone who is different than him. He is respecting and celebrating their traditions. He is honoring them. Is there any reason we, the people who live all over the world, can't do that too?

I read recently that members of the American Congress are so polarized, and there is so much money at stake in each decision, that they no longer undertake this practice of breaking bread with their opposite. It shows. Congressional approval ratings hover around 10% and they famously work to keep the status quo rather than move the country forward.

Polarization is a choice. I'm no longer going to buy it. How about you?


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2 comments:

Sarah Morey said...

Isn't the question--why has it gotten so bad whether you are talking about Turkey or the United States? Unfortunately it seems as though there is almost nothing the "elected officials" of the US will do to remove themselves from the strangling vines of their parties' ideologies from the local to the federal level. Politics has become a safe space for cannabalism, however it isn't your direct opponent you devour, it's those who trusted that individual with their vote. Turkey will move forward first as the people are not afraid to bring their passion and sense of what is right to the streets. In the US folks are content to sit and listen to talking heads over their Hamburger Helper dinners.For Turks, hopefully that key difference will give rise to a more inclusive and forward thinking party to develop and ultimately represent the people.

Karen said...

Says a woman who is also watching the Turks first-hand. Thank you Sarah, for your comments.

 
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