I usually don’t post political commentary, but I feel the need to respond to some of the ugliness that election years seem to bring out in even the best of people.
Full disclosure: I am a registered independent with definite leftward leanings. However, there are some issues where I am more in the middle and others where I am a bit right of center. Truthfully there are few, if any, political issues that are completely black and white (or left and right) for me. I hope, and want to believe, that with rational consideration, genuine conversation and a whole-hearted, open-minded attempt by all parties to walk a mile in the other’s moccasins for a moment, this would be true for everyone (the “not black and white” part, I mean – not necessarily the “leftward leaning” part).
But in reality, I despair at the bitter and growing divisiveness that seems to form the backbone of political discourse these days. At how quickly any conversation turns to finger pointing, name calling, condescension and otherizing. This is true for nearly ALL of our politicians (left, right, and center). Entire campaigns are built from calling out the other side with little or no attention to the candidate’s own platform. The easy and, God help us, effective platform is: “the other guy sucks.”
Even more disheartening is that it’s not just the politicians; it is equally true of the man and woman on the street – nowhere more so than on that street called the Internet. Just look at any politically themed article from any online news source and scroll through the comments. You can’t possibly miss what I’m saying. 80% of the comments on a right-leaning article will be angry rhetoric from the left and vice versa. Heck, on Facebook the original post doesn’t even need to be politically themed; nearly anything can be twisted around until it sounds political and then, let the mudslinging and name calling begin.
Is it because we feel powerful when we can declare the obvious and unassailable truth of our own position without really considering the seemingly opposite stance? Is it because we can post our vitriol from a semi-anonymous space? Is it because it’s so easy, at a comfortable distance, from our armchair at home, where we don’t have to look at whoever we are lambasting as someone human – as a brother or sister who is in this thing for the long haul right along with us? Is it because all of our news sources (left, right and center) are spoonfeeding us with talking points and sound bites of righteous moral indignation that we can easily regurgitate without really thinking?
Why do we automatically assume that someone who holds a different opinion is, at best, misguided and misinformed and, more likely, downright vile and evil?
I think it can only be because we no longer see them as human, but only as other. Them. The bad guys. The resident evil.
Here’s the thing. They aren’t. THEY are US.
As I said, I lean to the left. I am married to a wonderful, amazing, generous, deep-hearted man who leans to the right. We’ve been married for over 35 years. It’s okay that we disagree on some things. Neither of us thinks the other is evil because of it. We get along. Sometimes we can even see each other’s point of view. There are numerous issues on which we disagree. And yet, we live together, peaceably. We support each other. We love each other. We agree to disagree. And we agree to keep on talking.
We don’t have a lot of money. My husband’s business has suffered dramatically during this recession. We struggle sometimes to make ends meet. Insurance rates are unbelievable for his small business. Retirement seems like an unobtainable dream. But the idea that insurance should be available for all, that retirement and social security should be available for all – those don’t feel like burdens, entitlements, or some kind of evil empire plot to overthrow our autonomy. We are willing to do our share so that everyone can enjoy the security of these systems. My husband’s business provided insurance (and many other benefits) for his employees long before it was mandated to do so, and he will continue to offer these benefits because it’s the right thing to do.
We are struggling, but I have friends and/or family who are millionaires and more. They are not greedy people. They’re not evil. They want to – and DO do their share without complaining. They are not my enemy just because I’m not at the same level of financial success. I do not believe that the sole intent of wealthy Americans is to bring us po’ folk down any more than I believe my own intent is to live off the welfare of the rich. No, the wealthy 1% are not the evil empire either.
I have friends and/or family who are Native American, African American, Mexican American. I myself am the daughter of immigrants, albeit from our less “offensive” border nation of Canada. I am a first generation U.S. citizen. My parents are legal immigrants. But heaven forbid, had they come here for a better life illegally and raised me here all these years, I could now be facing that having lived my entire life in this land of freedom and plenty, I am now required to go “home” to a place I do not know as home. Truth be told, the only true “natives” of this land are the Native Americans who were displaced onto reservations eons ago, leaving the rest of us to decide who has a “right” to be here.
Here’s something else. I am heterosexual. I have friends and/or family who are gay. Some who have come out, some who have not. Some who have married their same-sex partner. Some who would, but are forbidden from doing so. Some who would even be forbidden from sitting with their loved one as they die or from making medical decisions on their behalf. I love these people. I hurt for them.
I, personally, would never have an abortion. I have friends and/or family who have chosen abortion for reasons that seemed absolutely right for them. They did not choose lightly. They did not undervalue life by their choices. I love these people. I hurt for them.
I have friends and/or family who are or have been addicts. Who are or have been in jail. Who are or have been homeless. These people are good people – they are not worthless, shiftless, useless, less-than-human people. I love these people. I hurt for them.
I am spiritual but not religious. I am a “fallen” Catholic. I do not regret my history or my rich religious legacy, and I do not regret my choice to move in a different direction. I have friends and/or family who are still devout Catholics. I have friends and/or family who are Christians of all varieties from the very fundamental to the very liberal. I live in a neighborhood that is heavily LDS. I have friends and/or family who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist. They all have very dearly held beliefs. They all love their families. They all want peace. I love these people. I hurt for them.
Some Christians despise homosexuals and abortion. Some homosexuals and those who have or would have an abortion despise Christians. Some Jews despise Muslims. Some Muslims despise Jews. Some atheists despise religious. Some religious despise atheists. Some on the right despise those on the left. Some on the left despise those on the right. I . . . I simply despise the despising. Because every single last person of every single last group is, first and foremost, a human being with human feelings, human values and human dreams. Every last one is someone’s mother, father, son, daughter, sibling, spouse, friend. Not one single one is “other.”
I challenge you. Every time you begin to feel self-righteous in your position, every time you catch yourself drawing lines of us and them, for just one moment, try to imagine the “them” as your son or daughter or spouse or best friend. Try to imagine that “they” are someone you love, someone you hurt for. Imagine that despicable “other” as someone you are married to with no option for divorce, because in a very real sense that’s the truth. For better or for worse. And unless you choose for better, it will be for worse.
It’s good and healthy to discuss what we stand for but, in the end, if what we stand for isn’t each other, then we all fall down.
I pray for a day when we can dispense with focusing on our differences and commence to finding common ground. There is no THEM. There is only US. And if we continue on this path, even that will no longer be true.