CBS Sunday Morning rolled out Ted Koppel last weekend to explore how the United States became so polarized as a nation and if there were things that could mend the divide.

Twenty-one years ago, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, may have been the last time that the United States was openly – even defiantly – united, in pain and patriotism. Since then, we have drifted apart, gone to our separate corners, hunkered down in our respective silos.

Sunday Morning: A Nation Divided?

There were several segments to the show, each exploring a different aspect of the main theme.

This first segment looked into a political movement that is suggesting 63% of Eastern Oregon to be merged with Idaho which is closer political and cultural affinity

Next, Jon Grinspan, a historian who studied how intense partisanship in the 19th century was driven by people feeling isolated and unstable fed into an aggressive and violent political discourse. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

We then jump into the present and sit in on a conversation across generational and class divides in Pennsylvania.

Later we learn about the group Braver Angels, founded by a marriage counselor, who applied his skills to bring people on opposite ends of the political spectrum together, united on their concern (and love) for democracy in America. Braver Angels signature, in-person, Red/Blue workshops bring people together from initial skepticism to a profound and empathetic understanding of each other.

Finally there’s an interview with the director Norman Lear who produced several controversial TV shows in the Seventies such as All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Maude. The interview asks the 100-year old Lear if he were to explore these issues today, how would he do it,

If I were to do it today, I would have a 13-year old daughter who represents everything I care about and is a pain in the ass talking about it. And, in her brilliance, would recognize a lot about the foolishness of the human condition and problems they’re parents are living with that even they are not facing.

Norman Lear on laughing at what ails America

I had an animated discussion with someone visiting NYC  from Los Angeles on the subway the other day. In the 10 minutes until he got off, we were able to come together and, as cliché as it sounds, find common ground. We lamented how everything was so politicized and agreed that politicians and social media drive us apart (see Enragement Metrics) so they can better engage and target us.

We talked about how American car culture and modern city planning have isolated people from each other. The only reason we were even having a conversation was because we were sitting across from each other on the New York subway, the great equalizer.

Before he got off, we shook hands and celebrated our chance connection. Conversations like this give me hope. There’s more that unites us than divides us and time is running out for us to recognize this and address the larger challenges to our existence.