In the heat of our many discussion, a friend of mine would make fun of me by saying, “Guillermo, opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.” This was his good-natured way of pointing out my tendency to share an opinion on everything under the sun whether I knew anything about the subject or not.
I have always enjoyed such interactions with friends, even when we strongly disagree on topics. Those type of exchanges treasure me with greater knowledge and a new perspective. Yet, in today’s environment of division, it seems as though my friend’s dictum has morphed into something much more cynical. Something like this, “people who think different from me are assholes.”
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 to be drained. Ultimately,the demonizing that occurred between both political parties created demagogues out of both candidates, leaving us to believe that our national unity is gone and that our political leaders are incapable of coming together and solving our problems.
Using our political process as a great lesson for our lives, we learn that a greater good cannot be created if we use our loyalty to a particular set of beliefs as a way to make others seem lesser, expendable and evil. Unbending loyalty to a set of beliefs causes a slavery that can blind us from our humanity.
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? As far as I am concerned, 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 we were not created the same. Let’s take 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. Many were taught by parents who were in management or company ownership, while others were raised under a labor union flag. Some were nurtured in privilege while others grew up marginalized and discriminated because of their race. Even within families, some of us learned to see the world as the oldest or youngest of our clan, or as an only child. Simply put, our minds were marinated by different sets of beliefs, perceptions and experiences. This means that all of our values are legitimate because of the way we gathered them into our existence. They are our legacy and we are entitled to the truths contained in the worldview we established from them. They are neither right or wrong, they just are.
I am not I suggesting that we should not advocate 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 not stand against 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. The way then that you become an agent harmony is by ensuring that your actions work for the greater good of all.
The second recognition is that, 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 believe we could come together to solve issues like providing affordable healthcare for all, humanely reforming immigration laws, establishing a fair tax code, investing in our children’s education, ending two 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.
Last but not least, keep this in mind, things are not hopeless nor is the world, like some claim, a place to fear. There is still time to merge with those who show integrity and believe in creating a good that benefits 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 are others waiting to join you.
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