It is hard to ignore the deep divisions within our society: rich vs. poor; conservative vs. liberal; gay vs. straight; haves vs. have-nots; Christians vs. Muslims… The most troubling one continues to be white vs. persons of color. Something about the 2016 election seems to have unleashed a new factionalism in America, as well as a deeply-troubling tendency to accept racism which has been a societal scourge throughout our history. I like to view myself as being one of the good guys. I deplore racism and try to be accepting of everyone. My daughter has been educating me though, that all of us–whether knowingly or unknowingly–end up being racist. This is probably even more likely for a white male of my generation who has benefited from decades of privilege. I hope that admitting that we have both an individual and a collective problem with race in America is the beginning of a solution, or at least of progress. Lately, from Charlottesville, to NFL games, to the White House, to encounters with police, I only see our racial problem worsening, not improving.
Recently I’ve had an enlightening experience, not about racism, but about my own intolerance and prejudices. The better you know me, the more likely you are to know that I have been an outspoken critic of the current administration. I did not like the current occupant of the Oval Office as a candidate and I like him even less as a president. I view him as dangerously unhinged and bad for America; if it were up to me, he’d be impeached. Further, I have been angered, mystified, and hurt by those who voted him into office. How could they do this to us? The 2016 election was so bitterly divisive that I actually ended up losing several friends on both sides of the political spectrum, even another liberal rejected me for not being liberal enough! And then there is a wide swath of my conservative Christian family and friends who are convinced I am going to hell for voting Democrat.
In the midst of this rancor, I made a new friend. I’ve never seen him in person, we’ve only corresponded by email. He’s a young, deeply-committed conservative and we began a dialogue. He was horrified to learn that I’d voted for Hillary and vice versa. We eventually agreed not to discuss politics anymore because I’d never convince him to be a liberal and he’d never convince me to be a conservative. But then a funny thing happened. We became friends. We talk about daily life, faith, movies, relationships, jobs, dogs, and food. (Lately he’s on a mission to get me to give up Coke Zero for my health.) He’s easily one of the sweetest, kindest, gentlest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever met. He’s not a racist; he’s not a redneck; he’s not an elitist billionaire: he’s none of the things that would have suggested to me that he’d support the current president, and yet, he does. His life experience and worldview have meant that a conservative ideology makes sense to him, even as my liberal one does for me. What if neither of us is wrong? What if we are both just trying to live our lives as best we can and make sense of the world? What if my entirely close-minded view about Trump voters is another example of intolerance? I’ve been so perplexed trying to imagine how any educated, thoughtful, Christian person could still be supporting this White House, and yet I found one and got to know him. And this required me to adjust my negative attitude.
Is it possible that therein lies a part of the answer to our deeply-divided society? What if we made a greater effort to get to know people not like us? What if we could accept other people without having to convert them to think as we do? What if Sunday mornings weren’t the “most segregated hour in America”? What if we could watch for commonalities that unite us instead? We all breathe the same air. We all descended from the same immigrants. We all love our children and want them to have a better world than we have. We all cherish home and family and friends. I always taught my own children that “no one gets up in the morning and plans to be a jerk.” We are all playing the best game we can with the cards we’ve been dealt. Or as Charles Dickens so eloquently admonished us: “to think of other people as if we really were fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
I think we can do better than this. Let’s see if we can put the “united” back in the United States of America.
(Photo credit: Beth Davis Taylor)