Canada is harmonious.
These are all things I’ve heard repeatedly from Americans of every race, ethnicity and political leaning. I won’t comment on the first two, but I cannot disagree with the third. As a dual citizen of Canada and America who has been living in America for three years now, I unequivocally agree that Canada is more politically harmonious. Solidarity across political lines in America is non-existent, and groups of people feel betrayed by one another. America can achieve greater harmony if we choose to forge bonds of trust and respect amongst ourselves.
Canada, like America, has great racial and cultural diversity and a history fraught with division. Citizens who felt they were being treated as second-class citizens in the French-speaking province of Quebec tried to force its secession twice, once in 1980 and again in 1995. Grievances still exist between anglophone and francophone Canadians who voted for secession, but that hasn’t made fellow citizens disregard or belittle each other. Despite those and many other differences, our harmony is fueled by a trust in our mutual desire to make Canada a more perfect country and a respect for our ability to empathize with one another. That trust and respect builds a larger sense of community among us.
At a bar, I ended up in a discussion this past week with a gentleman in his mid-twenties who had voted for Trump. I voted for Clinton. The conversation became so heated that at one point, I was afraid it would turn into a fist fight. But the longer we kept talking, moving the discussion away from the scandals and sensational stories that encapsulate mainstream media to specific policy points, we discovered that we agreed on many of the challenges America faces. Though I still believe many of his views are ridiculous, and surely he believes the same of mine, we were able to acknowledge that we both want better for this country and have the right to our narratives being respected; we are both Americans and must share this country.
In telling this story to my friends and family, I encountered much more negativity than I expected. Was it naive of me, a second generation Indian-American, to engage an inebriated man who voted for Trump and might have believed that I should not be welcome in America? Like many immigrant and minority groups, my community’s sense of security and safety has been severely impacted by this election and by Trump’s rhetoric. A month ago, two Indian men were shot in an Olathe, Kan. bar purely for being minorities. It’s disquieting and tragic that such events fueled by prejudice are occurring here in America, but also makes it all the more important that we work to build partnerships and not stereotype all who voted for Trump as being hate-mongers. Shying away from honest face-to-face discussion due to fear that others are incapable of considering our opinions and narratives as legitimate will only entrench the already deep divisions.
We are at a stage where people on the left and right are actively trying to disown one another, and we will get along only when we build mutual understanding with our fellow Americans of opposing political stripes. For both sides, it’s a matter of making eye contact and engaging those with whom we disagree — real people are not all walking Breitbarters or Young Turks.
This is the first step in hopefully reaching a middle ground on important issues. Every functional democracy needs argument and disagreement. In America, there exists a staunch refusal between individuals to acknowledge, respect or listen to one another. If we aspire to be a more harmonious country, it’s essential we respect that the majority of our fellow citizens, though they may differ politically from us, are not malicious people, possess the ability to understand us and carry a mutual goal for a more prosperous country. Scapegoating and intolerance, especially from the presidential pulpit, has created uneasy suspicion that our fellow citizens could be enemies, or even worse that it is within their rights to commit violent acts based on prejudice.
Maybe I’m naive — after all I’ve only lived here for three years — but I have faith that trust can be rebuilt. If we don’t believe this country can become more harmonious and inclusive, it never will. Pessimism and sitting on the sidelines will not get us there. Apathy to discourse will do nothing to improve harmony when divisions cut so deep. It is only when we reconcile with each other and look beyond our differences that we can solve our challenges.
Ravi Doshi is a College junior from Kingston, Ontario.