by Sheila Volweider
The transition from living and working in the United States to traveling and living full-time in Central America was substantial in many different ways. The intense emotions involved with bidding farewell to friends, family, familiar surroundings and nearly all possessions made the last few weeks challenging indeed!
Traveling in Costa Rica and Panama for a few months provided opportunities to meet people from other countries, especially Canadians and Europeans. Since the 2016 elections had just occurred, they frequently brought up politics in the USA. Being away from the United States, I found my social media sites increasingly important for me to feel connected. I succumbed to voicing my political opinions frequently and reposted provocatively insulting and satirical posts to emphasize my points.
Meanwhile, the “other” side was posting away with the same type of cannon fodder but with opposing views. Feeling frustrated or infuriated when I would read that material, it had not yet dawned on me that I was being as divisive and negative as they were. And I was not changing anyone’s mind.
Upon a subsequent visit back to the United States, I had access to TV and realized how completely dominant and crazy the political news cycles were. I felt exhausted by it all. (Since we don’t have a TV in Panama I had relied on the Internet to stay informed.)
It took a tremendous effort to step back and take a wider view and a deeper look at myself and my actions. Reading the publication, Trump and a Post-Truth World, by Ken Wilber was especially helpful to me in self-evaluating my own motivations and actions. When I realized I was contributing to the divide, I consciously reduced my politically leaning postings. I also worked on writing more informational and less inflammatory posts. This proved to be difficult.
As I met other expats living here in Panama, I learned they responded to politics as differently from each other as people in the states do. Some absolutely avoided it like the plague while others intensely represented one side or the other.
It was interesting to me that despite very different political leanings, I found common ground and made a number of new friends due to the fact we were all ex-pats with a similar sense of adventure and a shared enchantment with our current surroundings.
I also appreciated seeing how the Panamanian locals and gringos connected, despite the differences in their culture and language.
I am now cultivating my skills at better understanding different perspectives instead of writing them off as incomprehensibly idiotic. I am also working on being less reactive while trying to better listen to and understand other viewpoints while looking for common ground. In doing so, I hope I am doing my part in healing the divide.