Congratulations! By reading this opening line you have taken the first step in fighting the divisiveness that is currently happening in our society. Those who read the headline and moved past this column are not interested in finding a solution to what is wrong — so legitimately I appreciate you making it this far.

Any objective adult, and many soon-to-be-adults, know that our country is deeply divided right now. Is it more divided than it has ever been? Well, it’s difficult to say that if you look at the 1860s or the 1960s. However, if we are not more divided, we may be more polarized than we have ever been, meaning further from understanding and accepting the viewpoint of the other side. In 1960s and 1860s, the two sides may not have accepted the other viewpoint, but they understood it.

Now it seems that those at the further ends of the spectrum can’t even understand how their opponents can reason their views — and in fact I would say that by sheer numbers, at present there are more people than ever on the edges of the spectrum than in the middle.

How did we get so polarized? Like most answers, it’s a combination of factors. I narrow it down to four key factors — some that were around 50 or 150 years ago, and some that are more current.

Disinformation has been around for centuries, but never has it been so accessible and easy to cultivate and share. We’ve all heard variations the oft-mentioned phrase “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on” — and it’s never more true than in this age of social media.

Attention bandwidth is the idea that we are so overloaded with information and distractions that we only have so many things we can pay attention to in a day. Because of this we tend to focus on the things we enjoy, and when that comes to news and opinions, we are more likely to listen or read opinions that support our previously held beliefs rather than those that challenge our beliefs. We only have so much time, why spend that seeking out opposing viewpoints?

Tribalism is the third factor that has been around for years, but is larger in depth and scope than it has ever been. Tribalism is the idea of groupthink, and politically it’s the concept that if you follow the red team or the blue team, then you must prescribe to an ever-growing list of opinions on unrelated topics.

What do I mean by unrelated? Well, if you looked at the topics individually (you know, like we do in our everyday lives) you would say that how you feel about guns has nothing to do with how you feel about reproductive rights, which has no bearing on how you feel about government support programs, which has no relationship to how you feel about immigration. They are wholly unrelated topics.

Here’s how ridiculous tribalism is. What if a school board candidate came out and said “as a silver candidate I vow to be pro-science classes, anti-physical education, strictly against assisted lunch programs, anti-laptops for all and pro-sports boosters.” You would say, it’s ridiculous to agree to all of those unrelated topics.

The final factor is our bubble. Through unfriending Facebook friends with opposing views, watching media from only our preferred viewpoints and not discussing political views in mixed company, we have created a bubble — an echo chamber of self-reinforcement.

When did this begin? It began when an entire generation decided that it was faux pas to discuss politics with friends at dinner. Why did we do this? Because it wasn’t pleasant to have disagreements. So what has happened since? We have lost the ability to have a constructive disagreement with varied viewpoints, and listen to the other side, because we are out of practice.

This is where we need to begin to make a change. Presumably, the people you have dinner with are some of your closest friends. Are you saying that your friendship couldn’t survive a discussion where you hold differing viewpoints?

What we need to do is practice these difficult discussions with friends. And listen to the other side. Truly listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk but consider their view. Ask clarifying questions. Ask them to do the same. Try and see their viewpoint, even if you disagree. And if you begin to see their viewpoint, you will see why they value that viewpoint, and by identifying what they value you can perhaps find some values you agree on too.

Examine the candidates for governor, or Legislature. Discuss what you like about each candidate and what worries you about them — specifically. Don’t speak tribalistically about their platforms. Talk specifically about the issues and why the candidate you like, values what you believe. Seek out where you disagree with your candidate of choice, and if you meet them, challenge them on that point rather than trying to demean their opponent.

Look at the five questions on the Maine ballot. Question 1 is for home care for seniors through targeted taxation. What are the pros, and what are the cons? Look at the four bond questions. Too often we look at what these questions will go toward without considering where the money would come from. Do we do that with our personal finances? I don’t convince my wife we need a garage by simply touting the merits of a garage and how helpful it would be for our life. I also consider if our budget can afford that expense and what it will cost over time. We should do the same with these five questions.

We need to do the hard work of coming together. We need to engage in our own futures. It doesn’t start with rallies, and protests. It begins with dinner with friends, and a dash of courage.

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