In the heat of our many discussions, a friend of mine would often scold me with these words, “Guillermo, opinions are like a–holes, everybody has one.” This was his good-natured way of pointing out my tendency to share an opinion on everything under the sun, whether or not I know anything about the subject.
I have always enjoyed such interactions with friends, even when we strongly disagree on topics. Those types of exchanges treasure me with greater knowledge and a new perspective. Yet, in today’s environment of division, it appears my friend’s dictum has morphed into something much more cynical. it would sound something like this, “people who think differently from me are a–holes.”
Bad societal examples
We have seen the smoldering ashes of this phenomenon for the last several decades in our politics. These ashes erupted into flames during the last presidential election when people who opposed Trump thought of him as the Molotov cocktail that would burn down our democratic system. By the same token, those who were against Clinton saw her as emblematic of the corrupt political swamp that needed draining. Ultimately, the demonizing that occurred between both political parties created demagogues out of both candidates, leaving us to believe that our national unity has vanished and that our political leaders are incapable of coming together and solving our problems. As a new presidential election looms over us, we can see these forces have not retreated and they continue to tear us apart today
Using our political process as a great lesson for our lives, we learn we cannot create a greater good if we use our loyalty to a particular set of beliefs to make others seem lesser, expendable and evil. Unbending loyalty to a set of beliefs causes a slavery that can blind us from each other’s humanity.
Creating a greater good
So how do we come together when there is so much disagreement? How do we begin to dilute the tribalism that has plagued our country over the last several decades? There is only one way; if you want to create a better community, nation and world, then you must become the change you wish to see.
We must start with the recognition that a Higher Power created each human to be unique. Let’s take a cross section of our country’s citizens as an example. Some grew up in evangelical Christian homes with strict adherence to the Bible, while others grew up with a Muslim or Jewish heritage where the Koran and Torah represent the word of God. Some listened to Rush Limbaugh and FOX News, while others grew up influenced by the more liberal media. Some were taught by parents who were in management or company ownership, while others were raised under a labor union flag. There are also those who were nurtured in privilege while others grew up marginalized and discriminated because of their race. Even within families, some of us learned to view the world as the oldest or youngest of our clan, or as an only child. Simply put, different sets of beliefs, perceptions and experiences marinated our minds. This means that all of our values are legitimate because of the way we gathered them into our existence. They are our legacy and they entitle us to the truths contained in the worldview we established from them. They are neither right nor wrong, they just are.
I am not suggesting that we should not be advocates for our beliefs, we should, but we must do so with an open mind willing to embrace the truth inherent in another’s point of view. If we discredit and devalue another’s perspective, we alienate them by designating them as “bad” people. Individuals cannot come together if they judge each other to be bad.
This does not mean that you should ignore cruel and evil behavior exhibited by the powerful onto the defenseless. It is our duty to stand up for the voiceless if we are to be on a path of constructive unity. But the way you become an agent harmony is by ensuring that your actions work for the greater good of all.
We are connected as humans
While we may differ in beliefs, we are connected as human beings by similar experiences of love, joy, rejection, disappointment, pain, suffering and triumph. We may be unique, but we are not separate from one another because of these shared experiences. The way, therefore, to become the change you hope to see is by opening your heart and mind to the legitimacy and dignity intrinsic in every human being, even those who stand one hundred and eighty degrees from you.
Imagine how great our country would become if we respected and accepted one another regardless of our background or point of view. I am sure we could come together to solve the issues prevailing in our country, things like affordable healthcare for all, reforming immigration laws, establishing a fair tax code, investing in our children’s education, ending wars, negotiating peace throughout the world, helping our most vulnerable communities, ending homelessness, embracing and aiding our veterans, caring for our elderly and providing for many more social needs.
Hope is still alive in the world today
Things are not hopeless nor is the world a place to fear. There is still time to merge with those who show integrity and believe in creating a good for all. Become a person who chooses this path whether this is in your own family, neighborhood, church, government and business/organization. If all else fails, begin an army of one, there will be others waiting to join you.
Remember, paying gratitude for your life forward will reward you with great joy and contentment.