Photo: Alicia Exantus, Cheri Coryea, Maria Schaedler-Luera, Tom Edwards

A Nation Divided or A Nation Grieving?

Posted on November 15, 2023 by Tom Edwards, Sarasota School Board

"We are a nation divided" is a phrase that is repeated often, but are we? Perhaps, as was presented at the recent Harwood Institute Summit, we are grieving and, in our grief, have become increasingly isolated and disconnected from one another.

While attending the Harwood Institute Summit, I was intrigued by the concept that our country is not divided. Instead, we live isolated by our lack of community and civic engagement.

Rich Harwood pointed out that in the past 25 years, we have become increasingly isolated, which caused many of us to disengage civically and avoid public civil discourse and a sense of belonging. The loud extremists from both sides are filling that space, further isolating us, and we feel like we are not a part of anything. He further suggested that an additional complication is we may be experiencing grief due to a profound feeling of loss.

As I considered this concept, I found myself in agreement and realized this might be the missing link in my efforts to create bridges between what I considered to be two sides. But there aren't two sides, and we are not a divided country. We are a country of people disconnected from their feelings of isolation and grief.

A Real Life Example
A friend shared a story that showed us an example. While in line, an older woman counted her money and added up the costs of the few groceries in her cart. She then explained she was checking to be sure she had enough to pay for everything. She further explained she was retired after working for 40 years and now can't afford rent and groceries. She was visibly agitated and angrily stated she was in this position because of the president.

This is an example of someone who is disconnected and very likely relying on news sources, whether true or not, that makes her feel connected rather than isolated. Moreover, she also experiences a very common stage of grief…anger, over her loss of dignity.

All Loss Leads to Grief
When we think of grief, we associate it with death, which is undoubtedly true, but it isn't the only experience that causes grief. The feeling of grief stems from a loss of any kind.

When you consider the isolation that many people are experiencing, it isn't difficult to imagine this goes hand in hand with loss.

  • Loss of a sense of community
  • Loss of civil discourse
  • Loss of friends due to an increasingly polarizing political climate
  • Loss of trust in community leaders and politicians

Often, grief isn't immediately dealt with; we tend to push it away and power through. But grief never goes away. The path forward may be acknowledging grief and understanding and how it impacts our work and relationships with others. It begins with self-reflection and probably self-care, then coming together with people who experience the same feelings and want to return to a place of community, not isolation.

A Path Forward
An analogy is an open-air tent where people feel welcomed and safe to discuss shared common values and identify solutions to community issues or problems. Working together with shared common interests and values can replace isolation with civic community engagement. Each successful solution can rebuild trust, bring more people into the tent, and build a sense of community and belonging.

It's important to remember that rebuilding a sense of community and civility within public discourse will take time and effort from individuals and communities. We can reverse the perceived division, isolation, and disengagement trend by actively working toward these goals with a new perspective.

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