It’s Fall once again. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, and the sun casts a golden glow on the pumpkin-lined porches around the neighborhood. Fall is a special time of year. It invites change, transition, and reflection. You feel it as the wind brushes across your face, and in your soul as you put away your summer sandals.
Fall is equally beautiful as it is wistful and reflective. Amidst the joyful piles of leaves and apple pie, the darker nights entertain thoughts on the fleeting nature of time, ushering in a quiet stillness. This Fall feels particularly pensive, as the elections loom on the horizon and COVID-19 continues to challenge us at every turn. Many of us are glued to the TV screen and social media, anxious for the latest update or tweet.
As a nation, we feel more divided than ever before. We have undergone so much change and disruption in a short period of time, that it feels as though there are ideological battles being fought on all fronts. It’s the mask-wearers versus anti-maskers, scientists versus skeptics, climate change believers versus deniers, Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter, and Republicans versus Democrats.
In the spirit of Fall reflections, the Action Mary team has been having conversations about our differences as a nation and asking questions. Are we as divided as the latest headlines and social media posts suggest? Or could there be some similarities in our beliefs that are being overlooked?
We turned to the data for answers. According to statistics collected from 2019-2020 by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans say they wear masks all or most of the time. Two-thirds of Americans say they support the Black Lives Matter movement, with 38% saying they strongly support it. Two-thirds of Americans say that the government should do more to reduce the impacts of climate change, “including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats.” 72% of Americans say that LGBTQ rights should be accepted by society, and 70% say that Roe v. Wade should not be completely overturned.
When it comes to science, 73% of Americans say that science has had a mostly positive effect on society, and 82% expect that future developments will benefit us for years to come. 88% of Americans say that the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks, a statistic that goes beyond political parties. “In fact, Republicans and independents who lean to the GOP are just as likely as Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party to say that, overall, the benefits of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine outweigh the risks (89% and 88% respectively).”
That’s not to say that there aren’t serious divides in our country. When you examine other data points on wealth distribution, education, healthcare, and social mobility across race and gender, the inequality is painfully evident. However, when we look at the bigger picture of American beliefs, the data suggests that we have more in common than we might expect.
At our core, we all yearn for a better life for ourselves and for future generations. We want jobs that provide for our needs, quality education that opens doors to equal opportunities, healthy minds and bodies, safe streets, fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the freedom to live how we see fit. When we sense that our health, security, prosperity and future are under threat, it leads to ugly manifestations of fear, judgement, blame, anger, bigotry, greed, and violence. These sentiments find an outlet in social media, where headlines designed to capture our attention and elicit an emotional response leave us feeling as though this is what our world has come to.
It’s easier to draw from emotional stereotypes than it is to paint a picture with nuance and empathy. In today’s soundbite news culture, where attention spans are limited and clicks pay the bills, the narratives that seem to stick are the most controversial, simplistic, and divisive. But as communications professionals, it is our job to resist the overly simplified “us versus them” narrative, and to tell stories that are factual, engaging, and accurately depict the times we’re living in.
And so, inspired by our reflections and this higher calling for humanity, Action Mary has launched our Choose A Side campaign on social media. The campaign focuses on circular imagery and asks audiences to choose a side, for which it is impossible. It challenges viewers to step back and to realize that when it comes to essential human aspirations of love, security, health, and happiness, we are one. Yes, we have our differences, but it is this diversity that brings us together and brings us closer. Rather than choosing a side, the campaign dares us to have the courage to stand up for what benefits and unites all of humanity.
If we all take time on these quiet Fall nights to reflect with empathy, we might find hope in the darkest places. We might realize that we are more connected and have more in common than we thought before. We might see that those who speak loudly and with hate are in fact small percentages of the population, who don’t reflect what most Americans believe. We might realize that when we are bitter, divided, and downtrodden, that we all lose. And we just might realize that when we show up for each other, without judgement and without walls, that we all win.