We humans seem to naturally gather together in groups. Sometimes we are part of harmless cliques or clubs. Often we belong to a particular race or ethnicity. As long as we respect one another’s differences and don’t devolve into mistrust or envy of the other alliances we manage to live in harmony but the history of the world all too often demonstrates a tendency for people to choose up sides with disastrous consequences.
My grandparents came from a part of eastern Europe with a tribal mentality. The people there have squabbled with one another for centuries. The Austro-Hungarian empire was an attempt to forcefully unite a disparate group of people who for the most part despised one another. Treaties with this country and that led to full blown war when the heir to the throne was assassinated. World War I and the tragedy that it spawned came from the inability of the many ethnicities to find ways to share limited resources and land. The horror of that conflict was magnified a couple of decades later when Adolf Hitler went so far as to attempt to create a so called master race by ridding his country of all those considered to be undesirable.
Most of the civil wars and disagreements in the world today are between different religious sects, political philosophies, and tribes. From the South Sudan to Syria the human suffering that we see derives from groups who can’t get along. There are Suni Muslims fighting Shia Muslims and everyone in the Middle East seems to hate the Kurds and the Jews. Here at home we are becoming increasingly divided by political and religious philosophies. It’s not healthy. We don’t want to become Balkanized like the place from whence my grandfather fled over a hundred years ago.
We all have a sense of pride in who we are. I am first and foremost a human being from the United States of America. I am also a native Texan. My DNA marks me as mostly British and Eastern European. I am a Catholic but that same DNA indicates that my chromosomes show traces of European Jew. I am a unique combination derived from thousands of years of movements across continents and oceans. Today I humbly stand as someone who is just me, no better nor worse than anyone else. Essentially my only desire is to live in harmony and be allowed to have my own points of view.
I once worked with a brilliant historian. She held advanced degrees from the University of Houston and Rice University. She herself had been a war orphan from Austria who was sent to a family in the United States. She had a particular interest in the European alliances of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She also had a German car that often broke down so she needed rides home from time to time. Since her neighborhood was on the way to mine I usually offered to give her a lift. My motives didn’t always derive from generosity for I was fascinated by the conversations that I had with her. I used any excuse to hear her talk about the similarities that she saw between the Balkan states of Europe and the way she saw our own citizenry splintering into interest, religious and ethnic groups. She worried that we might one day be at one another’s throats and warned that we needed to find ways to resolve our differences or pay the consequences.
The age old argument is whether our American society should be a melting pot or a tossed salad. For years coming to the United States meant embracing the language, the culture and the beliefs. National pride meant loving America unconditionally. That was the melting pot. We set aside our differences and became as one. The problem is that such an idea was only minimally true. My own mother was taunted for being a Catholic and bearing the appearance of a foreigner. We all know that the Black citizens among us still struggle to be accepted as equals. There are those who would judge an individual based on color of skin, religion or language. Since we all like to celebrate our ancestry it seems more fitting to speak of being a gloriously beautiful salad in which each individual part mixes together to create a feast for the eyes and the palate. Such a theory only works if we agree to honor and respect one another and to share in a spirit of partnership. If we begin vying for power and resources the system begins to break down.
I believe in our capitalist republic. I think that it gives each of us the best opportunity to make something of ourselves but we have to be honest when it isn’t working as well as it should. We’ve often disagreed with one another on how to fix problems but the important thing is that we try. Of late we seem more inclined to turn our backs on anyone with whom we differ. Rather than attempting to find neutral ground we insult and push back on one another. Name calling has become a national pastime. As my old friend warned we are becoming increasingly divided and angry. Sadly I don’t believe that our tendencies will come to any good. I truly worry when I hear people say that if things don’t go their way they will move from the country rather than staying to work together. It is a sure sign that we are in grave danger of warring rather than finding solutions.
We certainly have our share of troublemakers all around us. They come from virtually every splinter group. They are rabble rousers who take delight in watching us fight among one another. Just as Osama Bin Laden and Nikita Khrushchev predicted we are in danger of being defeated from within. There are many people in the world who will celebrate if we fall. They are playing psychological games to make us feel unsafe. It is up to us to be better than they think we will.
We can all have good lives and still have plenty to share with others. We don’t have to fight unnecessary battles or follow those who would play on our fears. I would hate to think that my grandparents sailed all the way across the ocean to begin a new life here in the United States only to have this country end up much like the one that they left. We all love our children. We all want a bright future for them. It’s time that we began to work on accomplishing that without bashing those whose ideas differ from ours. We belong to the same tribe. It’s called mankind and underneath the superficialities that seem to define us is exactly the same flesh and blood.