I have to admit that we are living in very confusing and sometimes frightening times. Having a plane disappear in route from Paris to Cairo doesn’t help to ease my concerns. There is saber rattling all over the world and in the meantime our political parties are warring within their ranks and with each other. It almost seems as though the whole world has decided that everyone must choose a side and then remain firmly in the confines of their respective tribes. For those of us rebellious enough to see ourselves as having “live and let live points of view,” the current rage seems especially counterproductive.
I posit the Middle East as evidence of my thinking. Most of the countries there, with the profound exception of Israel, are united in their Muslim faith but with severe caveats. There are countless sects and tribes dating back to ancient times that are warring from within. Instead of working together to solve problems they fight for the power to subject every other group to their wishes. The trouble in Iraq, for example, has always been about finding a way for the Shia and Suni Muslims to live in peace. Saddam Hussein was only successful because he was a brutal tyrant who favored his own kind and forced the rest of the population to live in constant fear.
Somehow that is how it is lately feeling in these United States. We have developed an “either or” kind of mentality. There are dichotomies from which we are expected to choose and the more we argue, the more radical the fringes become. Each side eyes the other with disdain and loathing. We distrust our lawmakers, our educators and our doctors. We either want to throw the baby out with the bath water or lock him in his room. Everything is about winners and losers with bragging rights for those who bully their way to the top. The idea of compromise and honoring differences appears to be a quaint but flawed way of doing business. It’s dog eat dog and everyone else be damned. We have turned neighbor against neighbor and even within families there are enormous rifts.
I have been thinking about such things while pursuing a seemingly unrelated hobby, genealogy. I have one grandmother whose ancestors I have traced all the way back to people with unpronounceable names who lived in Norway in the 700s. I have not once been able to find a single clue as to my grandfather’s identity even after five years of peering into every possibility. All I know is what he told me about himself and it is a sad tale indeed. His mother died only days after he was born and his father was somewhat of an irresponsible miscreant who had no intention of raising a baby. A woman that he believed to be his grandma cared for him until he was thirteen when she died leaving him orphaned and wondering where to go. He chose a man who was his uncle to be his financial guardian but went to live with his father until he was just barely old enough to take on the world by himself. He led the lonely life of a wanderer, moving from town to town to find construction work. He was already forty years old when he met my grandmother and finally fell in love. She was the one person who faithfully and unconditionally gave him the emotional support that had been denied for most of his life. She was his everything and he spent his final years holding tightly to the memories of the wonderful moments that he had shared with her.
It seems to me that we human beings when stripped down to our barest essentials are mostly alike in our need for the comforting presence of love. Each of us wants to be respected and accepted just as we are, not as someone else thinks we should be. Sadly our present world insists that we instead conform to whatever group manages to get the ball. At any given moment some factions feel bullied by others in an impasse that only tears away at the very fabric of society.
We need to find ways that work for each individual, which is indeed a tall order. We know from past experience that what has always worked best is being flexible and having a willingness to accommodate the diversity of needs that we humans possess. History is replete with examples of how this works. After World War I the victors were determined to severely punish the defeated governments. It seemed only fair given the havoc that they had created but it ultimately led to even more hard feelings that bred angry resentments. The upshot was the rise of nationalism and a character named Adolf Hitler. When World War II ended the victorious nations remembered their mistakes from the previous war and instead set up a plan to help everyone to rebuild. This time Germany had the means to support its people and to become a model democracy. In other words, it was a willingness to be forgiving and understanding that led to more palatable results.
We have to cease punishing one another for simply being human and for having differing views. We have to learn how to use Facebook, Twitter and the ballot box for the common good rather than vile retribution. It bothers me that our members of Congress and the Supreme Court always align according to party platforms. I think it would be quite refreshing to see a more fluid government with decisions based on each individual question rather than an ironclad and unswerving philosophy. If our Founding Fathers had been as averse to compromise as our government is today we would still be subject to the rule of the kings and queens of England.
My grandfather was an avid reader and historian. He had a wisdom born from a full lifetime of experiences. He watched his money and his possessions come and go. When he died at the age of 108 he owned little more than a handful of clothes and his books. His riches lay in the relationships that he had experienced in his lifetime. When all was said and done nothing mattered more to him than the loving moments with his family and friends. He understood that life is often harsh and filled with almost unbearable challenges but as long as we each have someone who accepts us for who we are without any strings attached, we are ultimately going to be fine.
Whether or not someone is religious or atheist, democrat or republican, gay or straight, rich or poor should not matter. We have to get back to respecting and honoring each other so that we might unite behind the goals that matter most. I’d hate to see us divide ourselves at the very moment when the world is so on fire with the kind of strife that tribal thinking produces. I don’t believe in unicorns nor do I think that there are troll behind every corner. Mostly I see good people wherever I go whether north or south, east or west. Let’s start a movement and send a loud message to those that represent us that we want a world that allows us to be united in our freedom, not divided by our fears. In the end all any of us ever really want is the same as what Grandpa desired, someone to make us feel loved.