In an age where there’s such a determined focus on tolerance, it’s shocking to see the sheer amount of polarization in the world. Perhaps that’s due to eliminating the gray areas and making issues exclusively black or while (so to speak). My high school was one example—only Caucasian and African Americans attended, and the makeup was approximately 50/50. Tensions always existed over treatment, usage of slurs, and perceived slights. The year after I left for college, riots broke out at the school.
In the fourth episode of The Story of Us (National Geographic, Wednesdays 9 PM/8 CT or on-demand), Morgan Freeman focused on why polarization exists in the world and what we can do about it. His journey revealed that humanity knows there’s a problem but isn’t very good at putting that knowledge into action. He begins by tackling racism and white supremacy in an interview with Darrell Davis, an African-American jazz musician. Davis experienced the force of hatred while in a Cub Scout parade early in life, when a group of Caucasians threw bottles and rocks at him. Since then, his goal is to befriend members of the KKK, noting an important truth: “How can you hate me when you don’t know me?” There are commonalities between people we need to embrace in order to rebuild bridges destroyed in the past.
Freeman talked with former President Bill Clinton and discussed the concept of tribalism versus globalism. When a group keeps an inward focus, they tend to insulate themselves and end up causing division; conversely, a group expanding the circle of opportunity multiplies their influence. This was evident in Megan Phelps-Roper’s story (see picture below). She is a granddaughter of Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. The church has made an international name for itself by its neon-colored protests of churches and military funerals. Phelps-Roper was at the center of the protests (feeling it was her responsibility to warn and rebuke people), but a conversation over Twitter caused her to reconsider her beliefs. She left the church a few years ago and is actively pursuing a life more focused on kindness than hostility.
Rejecting polarization sounds simplistic in theory: cross the line drawn in the sand and mend the relationship with the other party. But as we’ve seen with situations such as Ferguson MO and, more recently, Charlottesville VA, it’s a lot easier said than done. In fact, it can be downright difficult—even with those we already know and love. Sometimes the hurt can be too great that forgiveness seems an unfathomable option. Yet we’re called to do just that and put our forgiveness to action by blurring the line we just crossed (NOTE: I’m not saying to forget the action, as doing such a thing could cause it to happen again in the future).
Jesus was challenged one day in Luke 5 when a paralyzed man was lowered from the roof into the room where was gathered with others. He told the man he was forgiven of his sins, but the Pharisees complained that only God could do that. Jesus responded by asking which was more difficult: forgiving sins or telling the man to get up and walk. When nobody answered, he told the paralyzed man to walk—the more difficult of the two options—and the man did just that. It’s tough to forgive others for hurting and damaging the lives of people we love and care about—but in order to expand the circle, we need to do just that and then go forward, making a difference others can visibly see and react to.