By Daria Valan
It’s too easy to become divided.
In high school, I, alongside my peers, were given an ideology test by our social studies teacher. It was approximately 20 questions in length; some questions focused on cultural issues, some on economic issues. All questions focused on commonly held beliefs by Democrats and Republicans. This short questionnaire was given to us as we approached the legal age to vote, so, according to our teachers, we needed to know what party matched our beliefs. However, it didn’t matter if you were scored as Republican or Democrat, the true result was the beginning of a division. In high school, we began to learn that it was us versus them, you versus me, Republican versus Democrat. The test did not care about moderates or those who may belong to a third party. Instead, the test unofficially assigned you to a group, and with that comes the pressure to always support that group. Your group’s views are right, and the other side is wrong.
Throughout the 2016 United States Presidential Election, at lunch, my friends and I debated the pros and cons of each candidate. As the election drew closer and closer, tensions grew larger and larger. Friendships became strained, and the relationships of people that I previously thought of as friends ceased to exist. Myself, and others at that lunch table, stopped talking to each other. Our friend group became divided in an election that we weren’t even eligible to vote in. Because of one individual, people that I always used to hang out with now almost seemed to be enemies.
But that was high school, right?
The thing is, those lunch table divisions that began in high school continue on. We were taught an easy way to determine who to hang out with, who had the right viewpoint, and who cared more about the country and its citizens.
November 6th, 2018. The 2018 Midterm Elections. I, alongside about 50 other students and faculty, attended Hofstra University’s Election Party. There was no assigned seating, but each table seemed to represent a group: Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and those looking for free food. It makes sense that people who share beliefs would want to sit next to each other as the results begin to come in. But belief systems are not what led people to sit where they did that night. The response I heard over and over was, “I wanted to sit with my friends.”
And that’s kind of the point.
We divide ourselves. We only associate people with our beliefs; beliefs that have often been assigned to us because we seem to generally believe in what one of two major parties believe in. It is easier to be around people that have the same political views, and allow all discussion to reinforce the ideas we already have.
I will be the first to admit that after the 2016 Presidential Election, I sat around asking myself how could about half the country vote the way that they did? What led them to make that decision? And that’s what I- and much of the country- is guilty of. We sit and question, but we also refuse to talk to the other side and hear what they have to say. Election night provided me with an opportunity to genuinely speak to people with different viewpoints. I spoke with someone who identifies as a Republican, and my initial reflex was to assume that we would not see eye to eye on anything. However, less then 5 minutes into our conversation, we realized we shared beliefs when it came to criminal justice reform. If I had not taken the time to speak to her, and she had not taken the time to speak with me, we never would have known we shared this opinion.
It is okay to identify as being a member to a political party, and it is okay to not associate with any of the political parties. However, when an association to one party inhibits the ability to communicate with individuals from another party, you lose a fundamental part of government. Too often we see political parties as opposing teams, fighting for completely different goals. At the end of the day, people are fighting what they truly believe is the best for the country. The reality is no single person, group, or party has the answer.
Admittedly, I lean left in political views, but I am a registered as an independent. To me, this serves as a small reminder. A reminder that I am more than a checkmark for an R or a D. A reminder that I should keep my mind open. A reminder to pay attention to the issues. A reminder to no longer allow myself become divided.