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U.S. Capitol building Washington, D.C.

Americans with differing ideological opinions have become increasingly entrenched in their own ways of thinking — creating an ever-growing division that invites incivility and prevents productivity.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, over half of those who identify as Republicans or Democrats have a “very unfavorable” view of the opposing party.

We’ve seen what this disunion looks like in politics. In 2009, Democrats scored a major legislative victory when they passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans retaliated by refusing to hold a hearing for the president’s Supreme Court nominee. Democrats have attempted to do the same for most of the new administration’s Supreme Court and Cabinet nominees. Back and forth it goes.

We’ve dug ourselves into a hole. Luckily, we can get out.

A story I heard many years ago could be instructive here: An old donkey fell down a well. The farmer decided to just fill it in, burying the donkey. As the dirt came raining down, the donkey started to shake off the dirt and step up. Pretty soon, it was free to walk right out of the hole and onto solid ground.

Democrats, Republicans and all Americans would do well to shake off vitriol and step up to something better.

We should shake off real or perceived injustices — especially with our neighbors, friends and families — and step up with elevated dialogue to foster real discussions.

We should shake off apathy and step up with compassion, rising above the cacophony to a new morning in America.

Stepping up as American citizens means being actively involved in the political process. Stepping up includes serving and being served. It means forgiving.

It includes going out of our way to talk with those who come from a different background than us. Organizations like The Village Square brilliantly accomplish this by intentionally fostering discussions between people with ideological differences to break down harmful barriers. It’s in discussion that we discover common ground we didn’t know existed.

Stepping up should also include our responses to bad behavior. I recently posted a tweet about the need to treat everyone with respect, even those with divergent opinions. I was amazed when I immediately received a negative response from someone I didn’t even know. They said that Black Lives Matter and the women’s marches after the November 2016 election figuratively threw the first stone of bad behavior. The danger of trying to figure out who persecuted whom first is best summed up by a statement often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

This is also a call to our elected leaders to step up. They should lead the way in shaking off old ways of doing business to find resolutions that will transform our nation for the better. We need our leaders to join this cultural shift.

There’s work to be done, and when Americans can learn to shake it off and step up, our nation will land on solid, higher ground.

Kyle Treasure is a communications intern with Sutherland Institute.