While searching my brain for something to write about tonight, I found this gem on Facebook. I love the idea of flipping the script, taking something basic and turning it upside down until it looks a little more intriguing. When I was years and years younger, I did this with my career as stay-at-home mom. I told people I was a “Wildlife Manager,” which was infinitely more descriptive and appropriate. Seriously. Have you ever tried to manage two boys under the age of 5? They are a bit much.
So much of what happens in life is predictable, prescribed, and ordinary. We fall into boxes readily, like cats into taped off squares on the floor, because they make us feel secure. Student. Business professional. Realtor. Doctor. Parent. Dog mother. Athlete. When you meet someone new, what is the first place the conversation naturally flows? “So, where do you work?” If you’re lucky, you get a more nebulous, “What do you do?” We are comfortable when we can rely on these scripts. We feel good about ourselves when can give someone the elevator-chat, ten second version of our life, a version that usually revolves around what we do, not who we are, not what makes us happy or interesting or passionate. I think this is a crime.
I propose that we mix things up. Let’s stop talking about what we do. Let’s start talking about who we are. Wouldn’t a cocktail party be much more interesting if instead of starting with work talk (because who wants to talk about work when not at work, anyway?), we asked what someone’s first concert was or which television character they would invite to dinner if they could. And what if our ten-second, elevator-chat personal description went more like this:
“I’m Justine. As a child, I was terrified of anything having to do with UFOs. I played cymbals in high school marching band. I suck at throwing frisbees. I’m a die-hard introvert, but I love to plan parties that I preferably would not have to attend. Oh, and even though I’m 53, I sleep with a stuffed dog I named Eliot.”
Imagine what we would know about each other, imagine what we would learn about ourselves, if we stopped putting people into boxes based on religion, politics, and career and began talking to each other as if we were all the unique, interesting individuals we are. What barriers might we break down? What assumptions about others might we lose? I think if we started flipping the script, we might be able to raise the level of discourse in this country. Let’s re-enchant life by focusing on the parts of our human experiences that make life worth living.
With all the ruckus that is going on in our country right now, with all the division and pettiness and anger and bitterness and resentment and finger-pointing and general nastiness floating around on social media, I thought I would just leave this here today as a reminder of what the truth is.
HUMAN FAMILY by Maya Angelou
I note the obvious differences in the human family. Some of us are serious, some thrive on comedy.
Some declare their lives are lived as true profundity, and others claim they really live the real reality.
The variety of our skin tones can confuse, bemuse, delight, brown and pink and beige and purple, tan and blue and white.
I’ve sailed upon the seven seas and stopped in every land, I’ve seen the wonders of the world not yet one common man.
I know ten thousand women called Jane and Mary Jane, but I’ve not seen any two who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different although their features jibe, and lovers think quite different thoughts while lying side by side.
We love and lose in China, we weep on England’s moors, and laugh and moan in Guinea, and thrive on Spanish shores.
We seek success in Finland, are born and die in Maine. In minor ways we differ, in major we’re the same.
I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
For the past couple months, there has been a whirlwind of activity in my little brain. I’ve had a lot to think about. I can trace the upheaval to November 9th, the day I moved from the backseat to the driver’s seat in anticipation of some unsettling revisions to life as I have known it over the past eight years. During the past two months, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, some changing of habits, and a bit of reaching beyond my comfort zone. The universe, it seems, is hell-bent on providing me with growth opportunities. Another one of those opportunities knocked on my door two nights ago.
My father sent me and my sisters a forwarded email message about Kellyanne Conway entitled Trump’s Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway Reveals How Faith In Jesus Led To Huge Success. In his comment on the forwarded message, he stated that Kellyanne is just like his three daughters, “educated, working diligently, family centered, and lovely.” While the message began with a comment that the attached message was “not political,” the forward outlined Kellyanne’s accomplishments and her role in conservative politics and many times invoked her Christian faith and her pro-life views. I assume a conservative Christian would read the message and get a boatload of warm fuzzies about Kellyanne and her new role in the White House as counselor to the president.
Here’s the thing about email forwards. It helps if you know your audience before you hit send. A one-sided religious or political message sent to a likeminded person may be appreciated, but the same message sent to someone with differing views may feel at best didactic and at worst totally out-of-line and heavy-handed. In this case, my father didn’t consider his audience. He sent a message in praise of Kellyanne Conway, a religious, conservative, pro-life advocate, to his atheist, liberal, pro-choice daughter. While as a rule I take all religious and political email forwards from my dad and relegate them immediately to the Trash folder to avoid conflict, this time something hit me. I can’t expect my father to know his audience when to avoid uncomfortable conversations with him I’ve not been explicit about who I am, what I believe, and what I am willing to stand for. I’ve allowed him to think I agree with him by not disagreeing with him. I’ve been complicit by accepting the forwards and not presenting my beliefs in contrast.
I know my father meant no disrespect by sharing that message with me. I know he felt he was paying me a compliment. He could only believe that, though, by not knowing me at all. So, last night, at the ripe old age of almost 49, I hit reply and shared my views with my father unabashedly for the first time ever. I explained why I am pro-choice and why I support Planned Parenthood, and why, while I can appreciate all Ms. Conway has achieved in her life despite her personal struggles (we all have them), I don’t appreciate his email forwards about religion, politics, or the pro-life movement. I reminded him I have been a functioning adult for thirty years now and, as such, possess my own beliefs, which don’t happen to coincide with his. I told him I don’t share email forwards supporting my views with him because I respect that he has the right to seek his own truth. I also mentioned that I know he meant no harm or disrespect to me, even though my ego felt it.
Our country is deeply divided. There is rancor everywhere you turn. I would like to see us move to a place where discussion is possible, but that type of discussion is never going to be possible unless we as a nation are 1) brave enough to share our views openly, 2) comfortable enough with others to try to understand where they are coming from and consider the points they are making, and 3) willing to acquiesce on some of our stances to meet in the middle somewhere. At some point, we decided that compromise is weak and accepting less than 100% of what we want undermines the legitimacy of our beliefs. We are a nation of contrasts. We can’t possibly all get what we want. Compromise is crucial. It is democracy at work.
Last night I took my first step towards improving the conversations in my life. I was brave enough share my views rather than remain silent to preserve a false peace while my insides roiled with dissent. My second step will come this weekend when I participate in the Women’s March on Denver with my family in support of Planned Parenthood. I am going to continue to work on my mindfulness skills so I am better equipped to take deep breaths and enter into crucial open dialogue with people of differing viewpoints. I am going to work towards practicing compassion for others when they test my open-mindedness and poke me with their sticks of self-righteous certainty. It’s going to be a process but, then, all good things are.
“Where’s your smile, sweetheart?” As innocuous as this question may seem, every time I hear it or one like it my skin crawls. Although the words themselves are free of vulgarity or outward violence, what lies beneath is an implicit notion that as a woman I am expected to smile even when I have no reason to do so. There have been too many occasions in my life when an unknown male has uttered these words to me as I politely tried to discourage his uninvited company. While my one or two word replies to his advances didn’t clue him in to my discomfort, apparently my facial expressions took over. And now, those few words serve as a reminder that it’s my job as a woman to put on a happy face for him because women are supposed to be demure, sweet, and accommodating. Woohoo! It’s my lucky day. Someone finds me attractive enough to encroach on my personal space and make me feel small, vulnerable, and ultimately unsafe. I should make sure to smile about it. Don’t want to seem like a bitch.
The release of the Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump and his lewd remarks has dredged up all sorts of uncomfortable emotions and thoughts for me over the past week. It doesn’t have much to do with the fact that it is our Republican nominee for President that is making the sexist, rape-y comments. Mr. Trump lost my respect eons ago, sometime during the early seasons of The Apprentice, and there isn’t a thing I could learn about him that would surprise me. If he unzipped his orange-skin suit and revealed himself to be a lizard-faced alien, I’d mutter “Of course.” The effect of that video tape goes well beyond disgust for me and millions of women because it is an in-your-face reminder that sexism is alive and well. It’s a visceral souvenir of times in our own pasts when we were assaulted, either verbally, physically, or both, by someone like Mr. Trump who still views women as chattel. It simultaneously baffles, scares, and disappoints me. It also makes me breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have a daughter who I have to explain this shit to.
As horrific as Donald Trump’s words were on the tape, what bothered me more was Billy Bush’s comments and behavior which, while not quite as overtly crude, were just as creepy and demeaning. When Bush first spied actress Arianne Zucker who was waiting to meet their bus, he exclaimed, “Sheesh. Your girl is hot as shit!” Did he just say “your girl” as if she belongs to him? When they disembarked the bus and Billy suggested she give Mr. Trump a hug, I shivered. Women are continually expected to offer personal physical contact upon request, whether or not it makes them uncomfortable. It’s just what we’re supposed to do. Did Billy Bush embrace Mr. Trump when he met him that day, you know, as a precursor to all the male bonding and “locker room talk”? I keep flashing back to that uncomfortable hug with an anxiety reminiscent of PTSD. If Ms. Zucker had refused to comply, she would have opened herself to a smile, sweetheart-like comment meant to belittle her for overreacting and not giving in, or a what-a-bitch remark for her non-compliance, or perhaps forcible physical contact such as a hardy grab of her genitals as a reminder of who holds the power. Sick. And. Wrong.
I find myself checking the calendar a lot lately. Are we really in 2016? While I’ve long known we’re still a sexist society in which no woman is truly safe, I think I had somewhat deluded myself into believing we had made some sort of forward progress. Maybe the nomination of the first woman to be on a presidential election ballot buoyed my sense of optimism. But this election, with its female candidate and her harassing and demeaning male counterpart who is constantly referring to her as Crooked Hillary, has made me downright depressed. Secretary Clinton has more experience than anyone else has ever had for the position of Commander in Chief. Like Donald Trump, she has a negative reputation and scars from thirty years in the public eye that she has to overcome, but she also has sexism to rise above. And this sexism is not only from males. There are women perpetuating sexism against her as well, although I’d like to believe that sexism is so deeply buried in a dark place they’ve been conditioned not to realize exists that they have no clue that is what is behind their hatred of her. While I may not agree with some of her choices, words, or actions, I can’t help but admire Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is fearless. She has taken every type of abuse imaginable and she keeps marching forward unabated. She may or may not make a decent president, but I admire her balls. It’s crazy how brave she is to believe she is smart, capable, and level-headed enough to be President of the United States in this day and age. Perhaps more people might approve of her, though, if she would just smile more.
The next time Donald Trump is scowling on the debate stage behind her, I hope Hillary employs her balls. I hope she turns around, grabs him firmly by the genitals, and tells him to smile about it. It’s what powerful people do. And, clearly, he’s been asking for it.
“Never argue with a fool. Onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” ~Mark Twain
You know what makes me tired? I mean, mother-of-toddler-triplets tired? The non-stop, exhaustive, political and religious divisiveness presented in the daily media. With Hillary Clinton’s long-expected announcement about her second presidential bid, things have become even uglier in my world. It’s not that I’m not interested in politics. I am. Like most Americans, I have plenty of opinions about our government and whether we have become the kind of nation our forefathers envisioned when they drafted our Constitution. Most of these opinions I keep to myself because I’ve learned that bickering with people whose minds are made up is a Sisyphean task. People say they’re capable of open-ended, honest, fair, and cooperative discourse about opposing views, but I’ve seen too many dinner parties turn into shouting matches over who is right and who is stupid to believe it exists. And the more polarized we’ve become as a nation, the less likely it seems that we will ever be able to have friendly discussions about opposing political or religious views. It’s a shame, really.
I have a significant number of family members and friends who never seem to tire of political and religious controversy. In the days before I knew better, I got into “discussions” (yes…that word needs quotation marks) with these people about my views. Some of these people wrote me off. The rest, however, made me their pet cause, which has proven to be worse. These people have since made it their life’s work to enlighten me about how misguided I am in an effort to save my soul. This, too, is exhausting. There aren’t enough free hours in my day to read the emailed articles sent to inform me of my inherent and unacceptable wrongness. So, I don’t read them. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I had a choice…I could save established relationships with people who disagree with me or I could spend my life defending myself and my views to them while becoming increasingly agitated about my need to do so. So I chose to let go. The emails sent for my edification go straight into my junk folder where they remain unopened in communication limbo. Every once in a while, I hit delete for the whole lot of filtered messages in a ritualistic, spiritual cleansing.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” ~Abraham Lincoln
Some people think that my unwillingness to go into battle over my beliefs is cowardly. While they proudly spout their views in every possible public forum under the guise of free speech, repeating news-generated talking points or quoting pieces from partisan publications, I remain silent. And my silence merely reinforces their opinion that if my beliefs held any merit I could defend them. It’s a nasty cycle. I suppose I could catalog and save statistical evidence to offer while disputing my detractors, but how would that ever be worth the effort when they are so convinced of their moral higher ground that they would find a way to dispel my proof and continue along in their assertion that I am at best misguided and at worst completely wrong? I’m female and, despite having been raised Catholic, I now identify more as atheist than Christian. I’m an anomaly. According to a Pew Research study in 2012, only 2.4% of US citizens identify as atheist. Of that 2.4%, it’s been estimated that only 25% are women. I’m so far out there right now, statistically speaking, that I’m nearly a unicorn. Some don’t believe I even exist.
Because I am different from the majority and do not myself fit in, I work on accepting others where they are because life is hard enough without creating controversy where none is necessary. In 2001, we bonded over a previously unimaginable horror. In those moments after the Twin Towers fell, there were no labels. It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican, Christian or Jew, pink or brown. In those moments, we were all simply Americans. While I would never wish for those days back, I do have some nostalgia for the feeling that, as different as we were, we were all in it together. And I wonder sometimes at how in 14 years we’ve slid so far away from the united in the United States of America. Us versus them is now a continual ideological battle being waged within our own borders. It serves the best interests of no one.
So, I won’t debate you if our politics and religious views don’t mesh. I won’t unfriend you on Facebook merely because we don’t agree. But I won’t support this pervasive notion that any one group has cornered the market on morality in this country. There is no one way to be more intrinsically American than another, and no one group deserves a greater say than another. As a young child in the early 70s, I learned that we were free to be you and me. We were all unique, but we all somehow belonged here together in our differences. Maybe that was really idealistic, but I liked that message. I’m not exactly sure when things changed and we became so intolerant of the value of each individual within the confines of our united society, but I’m not buying into this new paradigm. I’m not defending my beliefs. I’m not kowtowing to the majority you create that leaves me on the outside. And I’m not teaching my kids with my actions that they have to explain why their opinion counts. It just does. They’re free to be whatever they want, and they don’t have to fit in to belong. This is America, dammit. And their mother is a frigging unicorn.
We live in Jefferson County, Colorado. You might have heard about us in the news lately.
Recently, one of our newly elected school board members, Julie Williams, initiated a call for a review of the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, with which she takes issue because she feels “it has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing.” I am not a history teacher and have no experience writing college-level curriculum so I can’t imagine championing a revision of a course created by college professors and AP teachers. Ms. Williams, however, whose extensive knowledge of U.S. history must come from her previous position in the health industry running an orthodontic office, feels qualified to suggest such a revision. And in making this suggestion, she inadvertently sparked an uprising.
In a press release distributed last week to defend her position, she seemed shocked that anyone would be upset, noting that rewriting the curriculum is not unprecedented because “the Texas State Board of Education has voted to set aside the new AP U.S. History Framework in favor of its own state-mandated U.S. history curriculum.” What she failed to mention about Texas in her press release is that a sample revision to the history books in that state includes the mention of Moses. Yes. THE Moses. Now, I’ve got nothing against Moses, but I’m fairly sure that he had nothing to do with the founding of this nation, given that he had been dead for thousands of years before colonists settled these shores. I’m not sure what happened to the notion of separation of Church and State, but the idea that a textbook in a public school could contain the names of persons mentioned in the Bible seems to play against it. It was around this point in her argument that I determined that there might be a political motive at work in her rewriting the history curriculum. Turns out that Williams and her fellow, conservative cohorts on the board would like to see history courses promote “citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, and respect for authority.” While there is nothing wrong with those topics in and of themselves, if we include them while eliminating discussions about race, gender, ethnicity, and grievances against government, we’re creating a very one-sided discussion. That doesn’t seem accidental to me, and it doesn’t make me comfortable. We’re not the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. We’re both.
Recently, students at local high schools have made national news by walking off campus to stage demonstrations against Williams’ suggestion that the APUSH curriculum is not appropriate and should be replaced by curriculum that reduces discussion around grievance and civil disobedience. By doing so, the students have shown exactly why our country is great. We are free to express grievance and perform acts of peaceful, civil disobedience. Students at several area high schools left class last week by the thousands and, with their parents’ permission, stood along busy intersections to voice their dissent about the proposed review, which they feel will limit their education. (It is possible, perhaps, that some of them were simply excited to ditch class. But I like to think that somewhere along the line even those kids gained some insight into the importance of citizens’ rights, free speech, and freedom of assembly.) In any case, I’m sure these protests were the very thing Julie Williams was hoping to quell by changing the curriculum. So much for not raising little rebels. Lesson learned.
My husband and I have been talking a lot over the past year or two about how we can broaden our sons’ experiences to prepare them for the world they will enter as adults. We inhabit a complex, continually changing planet, and we believe our sons need to be ready to accept that nothing is forever and that there are lessons to be learned everywhere, from all people, on all continents. There is no one “right” way of doing things but, instead, a myriad of options for every situation. We want for our sons a truly liberal education in the sense that they should become well-rounded citizens of Earth, open-minded, deeply thoughtful, generous of spirit, and globally aware. We would like them to know that there are good people in every nation and that a few mean-spirited, misguided bullies (hello, ISIS) do not represent the whole of the world’s people. We want for them hope for their future, knowledge that we are united in our common humanity, and the belief that together we can change the fate of this planet. Cue “It’s a Small World After All” and you will get the gist of our dream. None of this means that we do not love our country or are not patriotic. We are. We just don’t happen to believe that the “American Exceptionalism” Julie Williams would push necessarily equals patriotism. Our sons don’t need didactic, closed-minded, pro-America speeches to turn them into patriots. They need exposure to the world at large so they can value and appreciate what we have here.
I don’t love the idea of teaching our children to respect authority without acknowledging that sometimes authority is messed up (ala Hitler). I hope my children learn to question things, to dig deeper, to bravely consider all viewpoints. Call me crazy, but I honestly believe that is what our forefathers imagined when they dreamed about this great nation they were creating…a place where people could think, share their opinions, and compromise successfully when necessary for the betterment of all. I think our nation is facing a political crisis now due to a lack of critical thought and the non-stop, mindless repetition of talking points and sound bytes. We aren’t doing our due diligence as citizens to understand what is going on or what is at stake. We’re watching our 10-minute blurbs of cable news and allowing them to be our Truth. It’s the type of information cleansing that Ms. Williams is espousing that leads nations to ill-guided notions of supremacy. Taking the ugly out of American history is a mistake. It’s only when we are willing to bear witness to the ugly, the confusing, and the difficult that we learn and grow.
“The essence of a free government consists in an effectual control of rivalries.” ~ John Adams
This morning as I was perusing my friends’ status updates on Facebook, I had a sick feeling in my stomach. The election is over. The persistent, negative, and mostly misleading ads will cease. I won’t be getting a half-dozen extra phone calls a day asking me to vote for someone or against someone else. No more flyers on my door. All of this is welcome news. Despite the end of the election, given the postings I saw as I sipped my latte, this country is still a hot mess. And, it’s hard to celebrate anything with that in mind.
Half the citizens of this country are disappointed this morning. Disappointed might be an understatement. Words like disgusted, sick, embarrassed, angry, confused, and bitter are being bandied about by those whose preferred candidate did not win. I’ve seen prayers for help for our misguided nation and entreaties for the second coming to happen now to save us from the next four years. I understand the chagrin. Indeed it was the same sense I had in 2000 and again in 2004 when my preferred election result was denied. I get it. It’s rough.
As my kids were going to school today, we were discussing the outcome of the election. I told them that they need to understand that many people are upset and angry and worried today because of the last night’s election results. I told them that they need to be compassionate and understanding and patient if they hear things said in disappointment that seem not fair or right. We all have had occasion to feel that same way and we should be able to understand where others are coming from.
Last night, after the results had largely come in, we had the chance to talk to our boys and to tell them about the struggles ahead for this country when we are not a nation indivisible but rather a nation split 50/50. We need to find a way to bridge the gap, but I have no idea what that is. People have become so entrenched in their own views that they’ve stopped listening to others. Everything that someone from the other 50% says is immediately negated. People don’t take the time to view the news from different, disparate sources. We like hearing what we want to hear, and this is why we are in trouble. There is no room for disagreement, discord, or discussion. We’re all acting like petulant, stubborn, snotty children. If we get our way, we gloat like we’ve won King of the Mountain. And, if we don’t get what we want, we whine, complain, point fingers, and call names. It works both ways. I’ve seen it now from both sides during two similar elections. It’s not good. The fear mongering, the partisanship, the intractability…it’s unbearable and downright childish.
We try to teach our children to play fair, to be gracious winners, and good losers. We tell them to take turns and share. We remind them not to jump to conclusions or place blame. And, we ask them to be the bigger person, to be respectful, and to be kind. Yet, we’re not setting that example for them. We’re out there making disparaging remarks about the other candidate and calling our president an incompetent boob. Our children see this. What they’re learning from us is that it’s okay to be mean-spirited and that when you don’t get what you want you should cross your arms and pout. They’re learning compromise is failure.
Most of the things I voted on went the way I hoped they would last night (and, no, I did not vote in favor of the legalization of marijuana as I’m sure some of you suspect I would being the liberal I am). I’ve not, however, felt good about any of the victories because it’s hard to be positive when I know so many people who are feeling lost, hurt, and disenfranchised by the very same things that let me sleep easily last night. I’ve been digging around looking for something, anything, that would offer me a reason to feel optimistic. Then, in the midst of the tempest of animosity, I saw a post this morning from someone I know whose candidate did not prevail. He simply wrote: Tomorrow is another day. This is still the greatest country in the world. This man is a Marine. He’s a Christian and a loving and devoted family man. I am deeply touched by his sentiment and by his positive attitude when so many people are seeing the election result as the end of freedom and of life as we know it. This is the type of positive example we should share with future generations. At the end of the day, no matter whose candidate wins, we’re still incredibly lucky to live in this country and we’re still all in this together. We held free elections yesterday and millions upon millions of people voted. That’s an amazing thing. It might be good for us to focus on that as we embrace the next four years and whatever they may bring.
Somewhere lost in our pit of a house, probably stuck in between pages in a book on a bookshelf, is a copy of one of my favorite comic strips ever. I cut it from our college newspaper way back when. The cartoon depicts two alligators, one shoved into the other’s mouth. A banner hangs above their heads that reads “Alligator Debate.” The caption reads, “Al suddenly realized he’d just eaten something that didn’t agree with him.” It cracks me up every time I think about it.
As I watched the presidential debate tonight, I simultaneously followed my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Don’t ask me why I would do this. Clearly, this being the first election in which I had access to such a broad spectrum of individuals via social media, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. While hoping, I suppose, to get a more well-rounded view of what other Americans thought of the debate, all I succeeded in doing was giving myself an even bigger headache than I already had. At one point during the debate, I told my husband that my favorite part of the debate is when it’s over. At least then the fact checkers get the opportunity to dissect what has been said and let us know what was legitimate and what was bunk. At that point I’m ready to start considering what I’ve heard, but I never start the process until I know what’s fact and what’s fiction. Unfortunately, I don’t think (based on what I saw on social media tonight) that very many people take the time to reserve judgment or to consider the other side.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” I haven’t either, which is why I love this quote. Most of my Facebook friends fall far from me on the ideological scale. If I were to unfriend those with whom I have a serious a difference of opinion in politics, religion, or philosophy, I’d be cleaning out the vast majority of the 311 folks on my list. While I won’t deny that I get great satisfaction from my conversations with the friends who see life through a similar lens, I learn an awful lot from those who disagree with me. So, even as those friends are making comments that make my eyes roll, I wouldn’t withdraw my friendship. Their ideas, beliefs, and opinions, only inform and enhance mine. Although, on nights like tonight when I am bombarded by opinions 180-degrees from my own, I have to dig really deep to hold true to Jefferson’s quote. I have to remember how important difference of opinion is to intellectual growth. And, yes. I have to remind myself not to want to eat the friends who disagree with me.
(If I manage to find that comic, I will post it here. I’m still smiling thinking about it.)
The current political climate in this country is making me nauseous. The amount of venom flowing from both sides of the political spectrum is unnerving at best and unpatriotic at worst. I believe in the two party system. I like the way the differences balance each other out. I think our forefathers created something great here. But, somewhere in the recent past, we came to a point where there is no longer a capacity to agree to disagree and to find common ground despite our disputes. Somewhere along the line, we became unable to view compromise as a viable option. Truth is, though, that is how our government was designed to work. If we can’t reach across party lines, then the balance our forefathers sought is impossible and everything is out of whack.
I’ve been thinking about this a great deal lately as the presidential election nears because of things I’m hearing my children say. Our boys attend a fairly homogenous school where they are at a distinct disadvantage. It would be a safe assessment to admit that roughly 98% of the parents at my boys’ school will be voting the same way during this next election. And, yes, our household is in the 2% who will likely vote the other way. Our boys, smart kids that they are, realize that they are in the minority. They hear what their classmates are saying about the election and they are honestly afraid to join the conversation because they don’t want to admit that our household is different. They are afraid to be ostracized. Joe, specifically, has mentioned hateful things his classmates have said regarding political candidates. I know they’re just kids repeating their parents’ views, but that is what frightens me. We’re passing on this culture of narrow-mindedness to the next generation. I’m afraid it will never end.
Growing up, I knew what my parents political beliefs were. I knew that Ronald Reagan made my mom nervous and that my dad was not too impressed with Jimmy Carter. Through my parents’ political differences, I came to accept the discourse between the two parties as part and parcel of a democratic society. I was never afraid to express my views. I grew up willing to stand up for what I believed or at least being willing to talk about it. My boys are too fearful to do the same. I wish they felt it was worth it to state their opinions, but it’s not. They’re growing up in a country where differences are problematic and where compromise is considered weakness.
If I had one great Miss America wish for this country, it’s that I wish we could throw off intolerance and hatred. Someone who disagrees with us is not an enemy. At the end of the day, we all want the same things. We want a better life for our children, a stable and safe country to live in, the right to live within our own belief system, all wrapped up in peace and prosperity. Just because we don’t see eye to eye doesn’t mean we should perpetuate an environment of hatred. I’m trying to teach my children that tolerance is important, and you can’t do that with words alone. You have to live it. When Christ said, “love thy neighbor,” He meant it…and not simply when it’s convenient or when they share your world view. How do we teach our children to play nicely if we can’t?
I dislike elections for many reasons. The flyers from candidates litter my mailbox. The cold calls from campaign offices soliciting my vote always interrupt dinner. The non-stop political advertising on television makes me do the unthinkable…turn off my television. The constant barrage of information, disinformation, and misinformation create an epic cacophony in my brain. In the six months directly preceding any election, I completely understand why some people are driven down the rabbit hole only to reemerge in outhouse-sized shacks in the chilly environs of isolated Montana where they can quietly stew in their hatred whilst planning attacks on the misguided government. If the founding fathers were here today to witness the degradation of a political process they so highly esteemed, they would determine that they should have spent less time drafting a thoughtful constitution and more time drinking and fondling barmaids.
And, just when I thought that my distaste for the election process could not be amplified, Facebook and Twitter came along to prove me wrong. Now, in addition to the aforementioned flyers, cold calls, and television ads, I get to endure the rantings and ravings of people I once considered sane enough to befriend via social media. Of course, all these friends are convinced they are posting facts (and not bastardizations of information that once held a modicum of legitimacy). The links to articles from often dubious sources are usually chock full of erroneous factoids. If the links themselves weren’t bad enough, they are nearly always accompanied by a personal diatribe so vitriolic that I wish I could wash my brain out with soap. Sometimes it’s like seeing a display of their ugly nakedness that is now burned into my brain; I will never look at them the same way. It’s disturbing.
So, why do people who appear normal on most days suddenly become rabid political junkies who feel the need to express themselves endlessly before an election? I used to think it was because they thought they might be able to change a misguided mind (and by “misguided mind” I’m referring to the mind of someone whose political views differ from their own, clearly correct views). But, seriously…when does that ever work? Not to get all pop music on you, but John Mayer’s lyrics seem so apropos here: “Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign? Is there anyone who clearly recalls ever breaking rank at all for something someone yelled real loud one time?” It doesn’t happen. By the time we are adults, most of us have more or less determined the things that are important to us. Plus, we’re stubborn and don’t like to be told what to believe. So, when you post something in an attempt to discredit or belittle another viewpoint, people immediately go into childish “la la la” mode with their fingers in their ears. You will not persuade them no matter what you say because they stopped listening the minute you implied they were too stupid to know what is “right.” Your lack of respect for their views garnered nothing but an immediate lack of respect for yours.
Years ago, my well-meaning husband told me he wanted to form a new political party called the Manners Party. It’s his assertion that people in this nation have lost their ability to treat others with respect and common decency. People are no longer capable of holding their tongues and listening with open minds or holding a door open for a stranger or even giving up a seat for someone who needs it more. We’ve become a nation of individuals with little or no concern for anyone or anything but ourselves. We’re the only ones who matter, the only ones who know anything. We’re a nation of people who feel we deserve something whether or not we’ve earned it. Just because we have rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press does not mean we should use our rights to chastise, attack, or otherwise denigrate those with whom we do not agree. The media attacks on political candidates are only worsened through the use of social media. Blatant untruths about political candidates are bandied about on Facebook as if they were hand delivered by God. Anyone can say anything, and they usually do.
When I was younger, I looked forward to elections because they gave me the opportunity to learn more about the candidates and the political process. Now elections only offer me the opportunity to learn more about the self-righteous political views of my friends and associates, as presented through whatever biased, self-promotional media outlet they’ve chosen to revere. Oh…I still try to look forward to elections. But now I look forward to them in the knowledge that as soon as they’re over my social media news feeds will go back to being filled with random quotes from cute kids and clever ideas reposted from Pinterest that remind me that, underneath our political posturing and self-serving rants, we aren’t that different after all. We all enjoy a good lolcats once in a while.