When one has a platform it’s tempting to use it as a soapbox. Like everyone in America I’m often burning to share my opinions on politics. I’ve held off on such topics for a number of reasons, partially because my own feelings tend to be too complex to condense down to 600 words. Mostly though, I’m worried I’ll start a fight.
It’s not that I think that my own opinion is important enough to create any kind of conflict. It’s that people seem ready to start a fight on just about anything. The older I’ve gotten, the less certain I am of things that have always been obvious to me. And yet, it feels like everyone is willing to double down more and more on whatever convictions they have, and take it as personal offense when someone disagrees. I don’t care to engage much in debates, because the object is never to gain understanding, but instead to win.
As a result, I’m finding it more difficult to be around people with whom I strongly disagree on a specific topic. Not that I don’t like them, or even don’t want to be around, but I’m on “debate” alert a lot of the time, which is so stressful. There’s genuine fear that if someone disagreed with me they’d get somehow offended and want nothing to do with me. I know this is ridiculous, because no two people agree on everything and yet we all deal fine with each other on a day to day basis. But I think a lot of people share this fear, because I think it’s one reason why we tend to hang out with people who are like ourselves. It’s too bad that we’ve somehow created this kind of environment.
The USA has always celebrated the importance of the individual, and I can understand why that is. There’s beauty in the uniqueness of who we each are and where we’ve come from. It’s good to applaud people for their accomplishments, and to recognize genuine merit. Today isn’t just a celebration of the Declaration of Independence. I’ve often heard it described as a celebration of freedom and individuality. It’s a romanticized vision, the ability for someone to do what they wish with their own lives, regardless of what anyone else chooses. It’s popular to undercut this with the idea that we’ve not always been very good at fulfilling this creed (which is very true), but the ideal is one of the most special things about the USA.
And yet, I think we would do well to realize that just because we can do and say what we want, we still have to live with each other. Whenever some state gives a hollow threat of secession, or when someone casually refers to “flyover country,” it says the same thing: “People from that part of the country are not my people and I would rather we didn’t have to share a nation.” Rather than cutting out people with whom we disagree, or who may even be wrong, I wish we were better at just having grace with each other.
As I type that, I realize that it sounds a lot like something I would say about the Christian church. It’s something that I’m obsessed with in that context, the idea of Christian unity. It’s not always (usually?) a reality, but it’s something that Christians believe God works in us through his Spirit. The religious connection doesn’t have to work for you, but am I crazy for saying that I want the same thing for my country, this ability to simply live with each other? Yes, it’s an ideal that might be unrealistic. But America is very much about coming closer to our ideals. That’s why they call it the American Dream.