David Paine

Jan 11, 2021

3 min read

Fixing the country starts right here.

In the wake of the terrible and frightening violence at the U.S. Capitol, I felt compelled to share this story:

We and our next door neighbor couldn’t be or see things more differently when it comes to politics. Yet on election eve we sat down and watched the returns together at our house over a few bottles of wine. We laughed, argued, and rooted for the candidates we wanted to see win. We took it very seriously. But we also had fun.

We may always disagree on things politically, but we respect and care about each other as people. Our children play together, we share ideas, bicycle pumps, and oatmeal cookies, and we pick up packages left at each other’s front doors when we are away from home (to keep them from being stolen.)

Because we know each other personally, we have been able to transcend our political differences.

But when it comes to social media, that’s not possible.

You may have heard of the platform “Nextdoor.” It’s a place where you can post things you want to sell, alert your neighbors when someone is breaking into cars, and let people know if you lost your cat or dog.

It’s also a place where people get to attack one another mercilessly because of who they happen to support politically.

The problem with “Nextdoor” is that it is the exact opposite of being “next door” to anyone. It makes it all too easy to attack and call others names from a far without any consequence. It allows us to behave in ways few of us would ever consider when talking to our neighbors face-to-face.

Sadly, almost everyone who post things on social media know little if anything about the people they might label or criticize. They don’t know their families or their children, they don’t know the health issues they may be overcoming; they don’t know the work they put into caring for their homes, or the hours they might spend volunteering, caring for a sick relative, or serving as a teacher’s aid, little league coach, or assistant at their local church.

Social media makes it very easy to marginalize other people — to not see them as human at all — which in turn makes it too easy to hate them.

There’s a lot of talk about how we can fix this country. For me, that has to happen one community at a time.

It needs to start right here — in my community and yours. Not down the road, or in another city or state.

Perhaps we can begin by giving each other the benefit of the doubt both online and in real life. Maybe the next time we post something on Nextdoor, Twitter, or Facebook, we should imagine that this person or that actually lives “nextdoor” to us, and that what we say to them online is the same as saying it to them when they step out to get their mail.

Let’s choose (because it is a choice) not to engage negatively with others who clearly have no interest in building bridges, and let’s acknowledge that differences of opinion, religion, race or other things represent the very notion of freedom, and are part of what makes America the greatest country in the world.

We can begin to unify the nation, but it starts right here, with you and me.