Common ground. Common interests. The common good. These three elements of commonality are difficult to identify and seemingly impossible to secure in today’s America. Somehow the promotion of “the general welfare” and the securing of “the blessings of liberty” have been subdued by name-calling and extreme rhetoric that refuses to acknowledge any pain, suffering and turmoil that does not closely resemble our own. We hear labels like deplorables, arrogant elitists, racists, bleeding hearts, fascists, socialists, and endless other varieties of intended insults wielded with unrestrained abandon. I wonder how many people who are hurling these terms with such gusto, could actually define the terms if pressed with an on-the-spot pop quiz regarding their meaning?
I find this incessant rhetoric almost unbearable. As an Army Brat, I was raised in an environment that brought people together from backgrounds that might fit any number of these hurtful categorizations. My family has built lifelong friendships that surpass familial ties with types of people I have heard called deplorable and others considered arrogant elitists. I know numerous individuals from the corners of the country who have been pigeonholed as racists based on a voting stance, who have defended me and stood for me when others I might have expected to stand for me, didn’t. I have seen people labeled as “elitists” who humble themselves in selfless service to others totally unconcerned with receiving acclaim for their actions who have stood for others on a variety of fronts called traitors because of their political affiliations.
I know Hillbillies and Blue Bloods. I have deep friendships with “good ol’ boys” and “soul brothers.” I have invaluable friendships with “Hard noses” and “easy touches.” I love them all and I am grieved that for reasons that are a challenge to pin down, very few seem able to talk to people of an opposing view without the conversations quickly degrading into a mindless, nasty slugfest devoid of meaningful communication. Such exchanges are difficult to watch.
What is the problem? A friend posted a conversation between two children that capsulizes the problem currently facing our nation:
Child A: You are a bad person!
A: Because I said so, and if I say so, then it is true!
B: But why did you decide I am a bad person?
A: Because you didn't do what I want!
I saw this exchange and in it discerned the heart of what is dividing us. In our various perspectives, we have reached a point of such supreme self-importance and smugness regarding our own points of view, that we have become convinced that anyone who disagrees with us isn’t just wrong – they are evil. We are not willing to consider that uncertainties and fears have set us on edge and given us such a level of angst that we as a people are ascribing motives and intent beyond reasonability to our own harm and undoing. We have lost the ability to admit that all people – even very good people – have the capability to be wrong on an issue or a system of thought, without their wrongness necessarily making them inherently wicked.
At the same time, we refuse to acknowledge that others may make a decision from a place of pain and discontent that is so acute, that the power of suffering may drive them to do something beyond our ability to understand it simply because “they can’t take anymore” not because they necessarily desire to harm us. Of course, there are always those present who will take such a situation as an opportunity to plant discord and to rile up those who are indeed possessed by the angels of our lesser nature. Nevertheless, there remain a significant number of others who are simply trying to navigate the waters of life along a treacherous path and are reaching out for what they consider a possible lifeline of hope.
I share these thoughts with the hope that Americans will take a step back, put their broad brushes down, tone down the ugly rhetoric and stop making sweeping assumptions about those who are viewing current events differently from themselves. Differences can fester into divisions and divisions can transform into oppositions of such ferocity that name calling will eventually give way to the wielding of sticks, stones and even more harmful weapons. Perhaps there is still time to right ourselves and to return to a place of respect, consideration and stability in our disagreements. If there is, let us not be complacent but be intentional in re-establishing dialogue, discussion and respectful engagement because the time for reason appears to be short. God, save the Republic!
Always hopeful but sober-minded,