River of stars. Disagreement.
Photo by Mark Basarab


We don’t solve problems by entrenching ourselves in disagreement.

This past weekend, two important events took place in the United States.  First, on Friday January 20, the country inaugurated Donald Trump as our country’s 45th president.

Then, on Saturday January 21, over one million people marched in the Women’s March on Washington, as well as its sister marches to protest the new president’s policy ideas and past statements.

Following the march, a friend of mine on Facebook shared this quote.

“Protesting ought to be used when human rights have been violated.  Protesting because you didn’t get your way is called a temper tantrum—no matter your age”.

Later, I read about a flurry of tweets during the inauguration pointed at the new President’s son, Barron Trump.

Several of these were shocking, but one stuck out to me as particularly malicious.

“#barrontrump looks like a future rapist”.

Hard Questions

It is no secret we are extremely divided in this point in United States history.  In 2014, the Pew Research Center released this report  on the drastic level of political polarization in the U.S.

Just before the 2016 election, another Pew report  found these divisions alive and well.

It seems we have some questions to ask ourselves:

Do we want so much disagreement?

Do we want racial divisiveness?

Do we want religious animosity?

Do we want poverty in our society?

Do we want people to be healthy and medically cared for?

Do we want an educated populace?

Do we want unwanted pregnancies?

Do we want crime?

Do we want to move forward together?

Sticks and Stones and Lots of Words

We do not move one step toward solutions to problems by disparaging one another.

Calling the President’s son a vampire or millions of fellow Americans babies does absolutely nothing to foster solutions to social problems.

These actions do the opposite.  They build a wall directly in the way of solutions.  You don’t build a functioning healthcare system in this way, you don’t agree on reasonable immigration standards, and you don’t save any children of any age.

All you do is push us farther apart.

Hate the Player, Not the Game

We do not move one step toward solutions to problems by attacking the personalities of others.

Many Republicans spent eight solid years decrying the despicable personality of Barrack Obama.  They called him weak, dishonest, untrustworthy, undiplomatic, and un-American.

Democrats are now taking their turn with Donald Trump.  They call him a misogynist, unfit for the presidency, deplorable, and a sexual predator.

Solutions do not arise from feelings of dislike or hatred toward another person or group.  We do not solve a single problem by attacking people for their personality traits.

All this does is push us farther apart.

Just the (convenient) Facts

We do not move one step toward solutions to problems by only listening to the facts that are convenient for our “side”.

The Pew Research Center made an enlightening discovery in 2014 regarding how we get our information.    It turns out we focus on very different sources depending on our political affiliation.

opposites, disagreementAs they stated, “When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds.”

We cannot hear one another when we are not listening.  We cannot understand dissenting opinions without first listening to those opinions.

None of us is always right.  On the contrary, all of us are occasionally wrong.  Solutions only happen when we are all looking for true, verifiable facts.

If we want to solve problems, the only realistic choice is to cease debating on the merits of personality, and instead focus all debate on the merits of facts.

Out of Many, One

If we want to solve problems as a country of United States citizens, then we can choose to do so.

We could focus on the facts surrounding the problems we face.

In addition, we could encourage or discourage our elected leaders based on their actions instead of their personalities.

Currently, we are not collectively choosing this path.  Instead, we are focusing on what we like or dislike about our leaders and each other, attempting to “win” by making the “other side” look worse than us, and ignoring facts.

We have divided ourselves.

Following the election, a brilliant researcher and author Jonathan Haidt shared his thoughts on this in a TED talk.     According to Haidt, it all comes down to who is on our side.  If we see each other as Americans who are on the same side, we can shrink the divide standing between us.

He had what I thought was some great advice:

“I think you have to make an effort — that’s the main thing. Make an effort to actually meet somebody.  Everybody has a cousin, a brother-in-law, somebody who’s on the other side. So, after this election –wait a week or two, because it’s probably going to feel awful for one of you — but wait a couple weeks, and then reach out and say you want to talk.”

We can choose to solve our challenges in this country, but first we need to decide that we are on the same team.

Choose to Solve or Choose to Stay


We have to realize how ridiculous we have been, don’t we?  It has to be only a matter of time.  How long can we go on like this?  We could choose to solve, but we choose to stay.

In the United States, we live in a country with the highest GDP in the world, but we still have a poverty rate of 13.5%.   We could solve this problem, but we choose not to.

We live in the only industrialized country in the world that has chosen not to grant health insurance coverage to every citizen as a right of citizenship.

According to the OECD, out of 34 countries we rank below the average for life expectancy, mortality from cardiovascular disease, incidence of cancer, and infant mortality.

When it comes to obesity, we are dead last.  How much do we spend for this stellar performance?  The most.  The most of any of the 34 countries.  Over $2000 more per capita than the next country on the list.

We could solve these problems, but we choose not to.  Instead, we have passed a law that fails to address the entire problem, and now we want to repeal that law because many people think it goes too far.

We have allowed income and wealth inequality to rocket to levels we haven’t seen since the 1920s.  You may recall that decade didn’t end so well.  We could solve this problem, but we choose not to.

We allowed housing and mortgage markets to build a bubble so big that its bursting led to a massive, global recession.  Then, we turned around and started to build another within eight years (CNN, NASDAQ, Fortune, Time).  We could solve this problem, but we choose not to.

We complain we can’t afford our tax burden when that tax burden is one of the lowest in any developed nation in the world.  We could solve this problem, but we choose not to.

We have shifted our economic system so college degrees are an automatic requirement for many professions, and in the process have strapped a whole generation of our nation’s young people with over one trillion dollars in debt.  We could solve this problem, but we choose not to.

The climate of our world is changing by our hands.  We could solve this problem, but we choose not to.  Instead, we continue to allow doubt that climate change even exists despite the fact that well over 90% of climate scientists assert that global warming is a human-made phenomenon.

We spend more on imprisoning criminals than we do on educating our children.  We could solve this problem, but we choose not to.

We have persistent and obvious racial inequality in our country and we continue to argue about whether or not we have racial inequality in our country.  We could solve this problem, but we choose not to.

We have made these choices.  If you are reading this and thinking I am making a tired, progressive, liberal argument for more government involvement in our lives, you are wrong.  I’m not.

Social problems are not a government issue.  They are a societal issue.  Societies can choose how they want to address their challenges.  Government intervention is but one of the options.  I am simply pointing out that we have not chosen solutions.

How can we stare right at these problems every day and not choose to solve them?