While our elected leaders render each other ineffective, and as the cultural divide widens precipitously, a semi-political post feels in order at the outset of a new year. And this is about as political as a post of mine will get, which is not even that political. It is not a rally behind one group or the other, as I tend to resist the extremes of either side, but rather a call for pliancy. Consider it an exhortation to remain open to the differences of our neighbors. While we may not agree with each other on a prescribed set of social issues, at least we can acknowledge the right of everyone to hold their opinions. This basic human function, of having a notion about something/anything, should be respected by all. Likewise, just because someone else may agree with us, it does not give us license to join forces and attack our opposites. Why do we need so desperately to win others over to our ways of thinking, or to crush anyone who may have contrasting ideas? Why do we level such caustic scorn at those who view life through different eyes? What are we afraid of? Such defensive responses may betray a bit of insecurity–a possible cover-up for the fact that deep down we know that not one of us has all the answers. So rather than admit our lack of control over an often chaotic existence, we fight. And we end up more deeply divided than before.
Instead of stubborn adherence to an agenda–no doubt fueled by propaganda (there is no unbiased news, so long as it is issued by people with opinions, which is everybody)–what if we listened to what our hearts say? What our lives have taught us? I understand that statements such as these place me in danger of ridicule in certain circles, but I am willing to weather that criticism if it means a harmonious life among my fellow citizens on this shrinking planet, or if it means being seen as a source of acceptance rather than rejection. What was ever accomplished by animosity?
Many of us wed our identities to the nation in which we were born. Pride of place is commendable. Yet nations are made up of people, and one unchanging piece of wisdom is that people change. Nations adapt or else disappear. It might be unhealthy to link so directly the trajectory of an individual with the trajectory of a nation. Are not our lives more complex than even the mechanisms of a government’s policy-making machine? The two extremes of the far left and the far right will never see eye-to-eye, and I proffer that it is not necessary that they do so. Besides, most of us would admit to an ever-present suspicion that we can never know what truly is going on in Washington, anyway. Journalists report on the actions of Congress, but there is no way to know everything.
Out in the world, where we work and live every day, we would do well to remember that a person’s perspective is never coincidental. It was arrived at through a complex combination of geography, circumstance, and experience. I suspect that few set out to be always disagreeable (though some may seem to). Regardless, the thought life of another is not an indictment of our own, and we are not responsible for the ideas of another. To assert the primacy of our own opinions over those of another is, at best, arrogant and, at worst, unfair. Truth is not the sole province of either extreme. Each side must acknowledge that, for the most part, the other’s intentions are good, as each pursues the course deemed most conducive to progress. Can we not see that the only way to guard personal liberty is to allow others theirs? One cannot have the benefits of liberty without its drawbacks. One cannot cling to a concept and then set about trying to alter its very nature. Therefore, if we are not able to love our dissenters, then at least we can embrace the mantra of “live and let live”, and trust that a power greater than our own is guiding the ship. We can strive to maintain a baseline of civility, and replace the desire to destroy one another with a desire to see the good in one another. It may be that the best we can hope for is to meet in the middle, which is better than the other option: destruction.