Background: While I am not addressing this directly, it is a tangent that resulted from hearing that the “biggest applause line” at the September 7th GOP debate was the reference to Rick Perry signing 231 death warrants.
Human beings perpetually re-invent ourselves. We learn. Things we experience now combine with things from our past, or our genes, or our life circumstances, to transform us, slowly or quickly, into the next iteration of ourselves. We do this to ourselves, either thoughtfully and intentionally: “I would like to become a person who inspires more respect. I will try to do (whatever) to make that happen” or unintentionally: “Looking back on my younger self, I realize I had a completely different approach to (whatever) then. How did that happen, I wonder?”
And here in America, our culture pressures us to be obsessed with appearances. Maybe this contributes to our unthinking assumptions about people, based on “what you see is what you get.”
Which we all know is not a very reliable assumption to make, but we keep making it anyway. It seems to be hard-wired into us, or else the cultural pressure is so relentless, so overwhelming, that it’s become a default setting in our social makeup.
Of course, what I see when I look at something may be different from what you see. Therein lies the heart, I think, of the tragic divide among the Bottom Ninety Percent (BNP) that is leaching away our democracy and defiling our Constitution and the very fabric of our nation.
What looks to me like cruel, unthinking folly looks to someone else like moral conviction. What looks to me like willful, selfish malice looks to someone else like towering strength of character in defense of noble ideals. What looks to me like intelligent compassion for others looks to someone else like woolly-minded folly or burgeoning authoritarian dictatorship.
And we have stopped talking to each other. We have stopped even trying to understand each other. We have written each other off, certain that the humanity of those others is compromised, diminished, and unworthy of our respect. After all, how can I respect the humanity of someone who appears to be such a vile, stupid, malicious person?
Thus we stay divided, never mustering enough united will to turn on those who are leaching away our democracy, the infrastructure of our nation, our own lives and independence and resources, our childrens’ futures, and demand they stop. Even if we did, how then could we sit down and negotiate with one another and begin rebuilding a society that guards the futures of all of our children? “We” can’t negotiate with “them,” after all, because we know that their vision and beliefs are evil.
We are certain, in fact, that they are in league with the powerful few who are rampaging unchecked through the halls of freedom, smashing and grabbing anything that impedes their will. We believe implicitly that they are knowingly enabling the unholy elite who are looting our economy and gutting our financial security.
I’d like to think that “they” are truly unworthy, because after all, what they say and do clearly reveals their racism, their contempt for people like me, their will to deprive me and people like me of my rights, my freedom, my self-determination, my respect. Of course, they think the same thing. About me.
I fear them, although I would not admit it to them. I muster my courage. I express my fear as horror and contempt. I withdraw from them. I point out how different I am from them. I am proud of that. I am fully human. They are not.
They would never admit they fear me, either. They sneer at me and my beliefs, they vilify them and attempt to make others fear me and my beliefs.
If “we” and “they” can continue to stir up fear and hatred for each other, the BNP remains divided and powerless. We look ahead, to how impossible it would be to rebuild a society based on values we assume are in direct and visceral conflict, and so we fear opening that door more than we fear the continued destruction of our combined futures. We cannot possibly make common cause with them.
The revolution might, after all, result in “them” coming out on top. We can’t possibly concede any of our morally superior beliefs and positions and plans for a society that will be just and ethical under a rule of values-infused law to their toxic, vicious, freedom-destroying, oppressive demands. We might, if they gave them up, of course.
But they won’t. It breaks my heart.
Is there a way out?
But it is very, very difficult. It demands a lot of me. Too much, perhaps.
It demands that I stop operating from a place of fear, and stop regarding “them” as less human than me.
The way out demands that I try to overcome the horror and disgust that their behavior and words provoke, and try to look beyond that-- to their humanity and their fears, and the core of their needs and wants.
I think we do have common ground.
But as long as I am determined not to give an inch, or at least not to be the FIRST to give an inch (after all, I’ve given so many yards and miles over the years...) it will not happen.
Maybe I don’t have to give anything, though. Maybe I just have to try and respect their humanity, listen to the cries of distress that underlie their hateful rantings, and respond to the distress rather than the hate.
I’m not a saint. I don’t think I can do it.
I will try, though. Maybe I can reinvent myself yet again. Maybe.
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