What would it take to stop our factional belligerence?
It was with some trepidation that I accepted The Union’s offer of a monthly column. We are headed into the adolescent food fight of an ugly, ugly election, and I am a disabled vet living on a few acres I sometimes don’t leave for days at a time. Going public at such a volatile period feels a bit nuts. Why am I doing this?
Without becoming overly Freudian, I believe I know the answer to this question. I am really scared. Pick your poison: dirty nukes, suicide bombers, left/right-wing conspiracies, environmental catastrophe, economic collapse, biological terrorism, United Nations takeover … whatever. Life has never seemed so fragile, and as the father of two children, one dead, I observe the escalating danger in our world and am afraid for your kids and mine.
Not that I have a solution, of course. Hardly. It’s just that I truly do know I am afraid, and if combat and that dead child taught me one thing, it’s the value of knowing to be afraid at the right time.
With all due respect, let’s not focus on 9/11. And this should be easy, because 9/11 only taught us what we forgot in the first place: the world is a dangerous place, and we are very, very vulnerable. Daddy won the Big War, and for decades we’ve coasted on unprecedented global entitlement and sugar dreams of perpetual growth, while vast sections of the Third World plummeted into a post-industrial suffering often worse than their indigenous existence. Now, our worst nightmare – GLOBAL TERRORISM – is staring us in the face, and we are brought back to realize that we are not separate from our world, but wholly interconnected – and inter-dependent – with all who share this remarkably fertile and resilient planet.
What scares me the most, however, is not the extent of threat facing us, but our state of rampant disunity in this time of danger. From presidential elections to local committee appointments, we are split so sharply across ideological lines that our best efforts at communication usually lead to greater fragmentation rather than unity. On the surface, our positions seem irreconcilable, but are our core values really so different? Isn’t our common interest still – and always – centered around maintaining a society that provides both freedom AND justice for all?
But how can a pluralistic, technological society function when its members are split into separate camps, each side certain that only “WE” see the one true path? From NH 2020 to fire suppression, we have become so one-sidedly identified with our differences, we’ve lost contact with the common needs, (let alone values and beliefs) that historically bind us. And that’s the most dangerous thing of all.
What would it take to de-emphasize our righteous, oppositional positions in favor of a more open-minded consideration of the issues facing us? To embrace true communication instead of the ridiculous chest thumping steaming off the editorial page as we sip our morning coffee?
Let’s be clear. Such a shift would not require any great social transformation where everyone gathers for group hugs. Historically, we’ve been through this before. All that’s needed here is an expansion of the tolerance we have previously learned to extend to members of other religious Faiths. It wasn’t so long ago that being Protestant or Catholic (let alone Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim) pretty much disqualified individuals from the social and business circles of those professing different beliefs. Even among Christians, some faiths still worship a stern God intent on enforcing unrelenting justice, while others worship a loving God bent on bestowing mercy. These qualities, we’ve come to see, are simply different faces of the one God, and most of us no longer use such reference points as lines of social division. Having outgrown these limiting notions, our increased tolerance has allowed us to include a much larger portion of our neighbors into our hearts. It’s a small step forward, but in this fledgling maturity we’ve learned that it is a person’s ethical intent that marks him/her as a decent person, not the specifics of one’s belief system, and this has been good for the national community.
Would it be that much more of a leap to realize that some us look at a forest and see shelter-producing wood and the means to livelihood, while others view the same forest and see a sanctuary of God-given natural wonder to be preserved for future generations? Are these truly opposites, or simply different faces of the same forest? The answer lies simply in our attitude toward individual differences.
In this spirit, I echo The Union in asking all political candidates to direct their workers to refrain from personal attacks in the coming election, and urge voters to reject any candidate who fails to do so.
William Larsen lives in Nevada City and writes a monthly column.
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