This guest opinion column by Kevin Kelly, executive director of the Dayton International Peace Museum, appeared on the Ideas and Voices page of the Dayton Daily News on Wednesday, Nov. 4. 

After an extremely polarized election, some may be asking, can we heal and reunite as Americans?

We’ve been here before.

During the 19th century’s Gilded Age, America saw a deep political divide, economic inequality, and stark individualism. Corporations and politicians often worked together to evade ethical and financial responsibilities to both immigrant workers and working-class Americans. Explore OUR VIEW: There is no ‘us’ against ‘them

It was common for children to work in factories and mines, women couldn’t vote or hold office, scandals and corruption were prevalent, and It seemed the social fabric of a nation was being pulled apart.

Today, many are reminded such divisions still exist: systemic racism in education, policing, housing, and healthcare as the pandemic rages and most affects people of color.

Women are still not treated as equals to men.

Campaign buttons featuring Teddy Roosevelt from various campaigns are part of a collection of presidential memorabilia owned by Steve Davis of Dayton. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Now we have choices to make on what comes next for us individually and as a society. Many of the Gilded Age problems ended when Americans embraced the benefits of a direct democracy, made reforms to the social and economic injustices of the time, and sought “association” over “individualism.”

President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, advocated for more regulation, breaking up trusts, a women’s right to vote, protecting the environment, and promoting social welfare. He earned a Nobel Peace Prize for brokering peace in Asia. Explore ROBINSON: Will havoc, unrest or the real American spirit win this election?

Post-election, most Americans just want a return of calm, and we can be the peace builders in our own neighborhoods. If our candidates win, it’s tempting to leave yard signs up and gloat.

Could we not instead, pull the signs up and move on? Can we accept that despite our difference we are still neighbors? That our communities need us more than ever to work together?

Many nonprofits and charities have struggled this past year. We can become peace builders by looking for ways to make a positive difference in helping others. This pandemic will pass one day and we’ll be better for it if we all work together, even if we are physically apart a while longer.

Where can you share your talents?

Now we have a chance to dial back the social media rants and reach out to old friends, neighbors we need to check on, and family who we may have ignored because of differing political attitudes. Be the first to reach out. The process of building and healing begins by renewing old relationships and finding new connections. The anger of the past year almost requires us to consider new ways to live and communicate. Explore IDEAS: Populism on the menu, no matter who wins this election

Abraham Lincoln said, ” I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.”

Let’s begin by getting to know each other better. Instead of emphasizing our disagreements, let’s find more things on which we agree. Find their humanity, among the noise and anger. Where are we we in agreement? What do they fear? What do they not understand about me?

Most people just want to be heard and appreciated.

FILE--Julia Ward Howe's 1861 portrait of President Abraham Lincoln on dispay at Washington's National Portrait Gallery. A new book, "American Characters," matches a galaxy of portraits from the gallery's collection with "literary portraits," word pictures of those people of America's past. (AP Photo/National Portrait Gallery/Julia Ward Howe) ORG XMIT: WX102 ORG XMIT: MER0704171238381410

Credit: JULIA WARD HOWE

Americans have always faced times of great crisis, confronting problems seemingly impossible to solve. We have found lasting peace after great wars, conquered incurable disease and tried to right the systemic wrongs committed during less enlightened times.

Challenges will always exist New problems will take the place of old ones, but we can never stop trying to form that more perfect union that is America.

Our children are counting on us.