OnWords: Divisiveness

Mar 21, 2017

At first blush, the word “divisiveness” appears to be yet another term used to describe something another person does that you don’t like.

If you balk at the new health care plan, you’re not presenting a legitimate worry; you’re being divisive. 

At a time when the nation seems to be increasingly divided, “divisiveness” implies that we actually want to be united—if it weren’t for that guy over there. “Divisiveness” accuses people of working against some unstated common purpose that, if everybody just got behind it, would make us all happy, healthy, prosperous, and attractive.

Ironically, even using the word “divisiveness” to talk about what someone else is doing is divisive.

On second thought, maybe there’s no irony here at all. Divisiveness may not just be the reason for using the word “divisive”; it may be very well represent the goal of the political system we’ve set up.

The much vaunted “marketplace of ideas” that the much vaunted founding fathers envisioned can’t exist if we all agree.

It’s like the disappointment you feel when you realize that you find the same junk at Walmart as you do at Target. For there to be real competition between ideas, there must be real differences between them.

So “divisiveness” shouldn’t be an epithet; it should be the baseline from which healthy debate can launch.

Those using “divisiveness” negatively ought to be seen for what they are: people trying to stifle a necessary and productive argument.