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We’re getting it wrong. This is how you actually unify a nation

An American flag flies at the U.S. Capitol before the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.
Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

In a recent Deseret News article, Jennifer Graham posed a question about whether people moving from the urbanized coasts to the rural “heartland” of the nation could be a way to help heal the polarization of the country.

The question itself may have been narrowed to the context of actual relocation, but it shares the same sentiment as the broader counsel to “walk a mile in the shoes” of our opposition, a step that’s truly necessary to build unity in the nation.

President Joe Biden asserted that unity is our only way forward in his inaugural address last week, but many conservatives — like former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly — argue such calls for unity feel like false directives aimed at pushing a leftists agenda. And, given that many of Biden’s first actions in office focused directly on countering or undoing actions put in place by his Republican predecessor, they have a point.

As Stephanie Robesky, a California native and participant in the Tulsa Remote program funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which provides incentives for people to move to Oklahoma, told Graham, “Part of the problem with this country is that too many people see things in black and white.”

When people remain in their silos — urban and rural, wealthy and impoverished, Democratic and Republican, religious and nonreligious, coastal and inland, etc. — there is little opportunity to explore the gray that inevitably exists between the extremes, have the dialogue necessary to learn from the other side or even accept that the other side exists for anything more than the purpose of opposition. And without listening, conversing and learning from a different perspective, no real change can be made.

I grew up in an ultra-religious Mountain West environment before moving to the Pacific Northwest for several years and then living abroad. I have seen and experienced many of the extremes that currently serve to polarize our nation.

But those extremes only exist to the extent that we allow. In reality, the “heartland” values of hard work, serving one’s neighbor and prioritizing faith, freedom, family, and kindness are held with equal weight (albeit different approaches) by people all across the nation, no matter their geographic location or political party.

When our focus is placed solely on accomplishing our own agenda, proving ourselves right, or seeking to prove the incompetency or potentially destructive actions or decisions of the “other,” we will never attain unity.

That is where we are going wrong, both in our homes and in Washington.

If unity is to prove our saving grace — and the nation’s name would indicated that it must — America needs a change of heart.

Much like how focusing on one’s partner in a relationship and seeking to meet their needs is the best way to fulfill one’s own needs, we must begin to focus on the needs of the “others” in our societies.

Republicans and Democrats should seek to listen to and help their counterparts in their concerns and agendas. Urban and rural dwellers should learn how the lives and actions of their neighbors serve them reciprocally and find ways to improve their relations. And at the most basic level, each of us should seek out individuals with opposing opinions and life experiences with a mind toward expanding our own outlook and view of the world and how it functions.

We’ll likely find we have more in common than we think.