I’ve been struggling with how to articulate this for the past several months, but I’ll just come out and say it: I’m worried about the future of our nation. The American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are a distant memory for many of us and I fear that the rights our Founding Fathers established for us will soon be a thing of the past because we’ve forgotten about the simplicity of love and respect.
Before you jump in and say that America doesn’t provide the same freedoms to everyone, or make assumptions that I think it’s OK that we oppress people because of their religious beliefs, skin color, sexual orientation, etc., that is not what I’m claiming. Simply stated, all Americans have a right to their pursuit of happiness, but due to a distrust in our fellow human beings, it is now considered acceptable that those with differing viewpoints are our enemy.
I’ll start with a simple anecdote.
On September 11th of this year at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, California, the College Republican group on campus placed small flags in the school quad as a memorial to the many innocent people who lost their lives 15 years ago. Within hours, this memorial was torn up and vandalized. Why? A feeling of oppression.
Following the incident, an Occidental Student Group, “Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity,” posted a comment on their Facebook page that read: “When this institution allows thousands of American flags to be placed in the center of campus, it speaks volumes to the students that have lived their lives under the oppression of this flag. From Native students whose land was stolen to undocumented students who live in fear of deportation to black students who see their communities destroyed by state-sanctioned murder, this school is saying your fear and trauma do not matter here.”
What? Seriously? OMG… While I can never pretend to understand what angers or frustrates anyone other than myself, I can question the sanctimonious language that the Coalition’s statement represents. This memorial was done in memory of INNOCENT people that lost their lives due to an act of terror. Yes, many Americans feel the flag is a symbol of oppression, but there is a time and a place for these acts of protest. That time and place is NEVER when we are memorializing innocent people. This type of action is a prime example of what I mean when I say we’ve forgotten about the simplicity of love and respect.
(Side note: The flags were placed with approval from the College, so please don’t assume that the vandals were actually campus workers tasked with cleaning up something that did not meet with the OK of the school.)
Aside from the issue of disrespect shown toward the victims of 9/11, this incident speaks to a larger issue. At some point over the past several years, it has become a perceived right to crap on anyone that doesn’t share your belief system. This goes both ways; we are all guilty of it. When did this become acceptable? Is that loving or respectful?
Take a look at the recent Colin Kaepernick controversy. On a personal level, I disagree with his stance, but I absolutely defend his right to protest. I would much prefer that he use his platform to bring about change, but I can understand why he has chosen to speak out in the way in which he has. Many likely disagree with my sentiment and think he has an inherent right to object without doing anything further. Others simply view this as a disrespect toward everyone that has fought for our freedoms. That said, it appears as though we have a common ground when we recognize Kaepernick’s right to sit or kneel during the Anthem. It’s the actions that follow that will matter.
Our Presidential election has also brought out more of this divisiveness. Trump has said and done many things to widen the divide in America with his comments about deportation, building a wall, etc. Hillary is equally guilty with her “basket of deplorables” statement and other alienating comments. This is NOT what America is about. We all share the same Constitution and we should all share the same rights. Do we? Absolutely not. But should we? One million percent, yes!
I may not understand the plight of those feeling oppressed, just as they may not understand the things that upset or worry me. However, if we continue to fight each other over words and actions, rather than take the time to open our minds to differing viewpoints, we’re doomed to a future where we are all watching our backs in fear of our neighbors. Does anyone want to live like that? Isn’t it easier to choose to love and respect everyone?
Our nation, while far from perfect, offers us the right to pursue our dreams. How we choose to chase after them is up to us, but we should always act respectfully of others as they pursue their own happiness. The simplicity of it is the “Golden Rule” we all learned as children – “Treat others as we would like to be treated.” We may have a right to treat each other disrespectfully, but should we choose to do so just because we disagree?
As we dig beneath the surface, there are so many things that bring us all together. That common ground is where we need to live. I have many friends and even some family members that I disagree with politically, but I love them for who they are, not what they believe in. I’m confident that they have that same mutual respect for how I live my life.
Continuing that train of thought, it’s reasonable to assume that we all hate seeing incidents of violence between the cops and minorities. When they occur, I don’t look at them and think “oh, he deserved it” or “cops are all criminals.” I look at them and view each incident as tragic. I was not present for any of these situations, so I get my “facts” from the same sources we all do – the mainstream media, social media, etc. But as I attempt to decipher the truth in each situation, I simply come back to this feeling of tragedy. Do others feel like I do? I presume so, but in this fast paced, instantaneous, news cycle we live in, that doesn’t sell. Divisiveness and bloodshed does. When are we going to stand up in protest of this?
Similarly, when someone shoots up a dance club, school, theater or a place of worship, I don’t look at those situations and think the actions of the terrorist are OK. I don’t think any of us do, really. However, instead of viewing these incidents as the tragedies that they all are, we’re conditioned to look at others as our enemy. I hate that thought.
As I look toward our future, all of this really makes me sad. Jamie and I are doing everything in our power to raise our kids to respect everyone, regardless of our differences. Do we fail in that mission sometimes? Of course we do, but when we step back from the situation, we always remind the kids that it is never OK to treat someone with a lack of respect or dignity. Our actions have meaning, as do our words. Love and respect are primal instincts, as are anger and hatred. Given the choice, I know which actions I’d rather live by…
It’s probably viewed as disingenuous when I say that I’ve never encountered the feeling of hatred toward someone else. Perhaps that’s because I’ve never truly been hurt by others, but shouldn’t we all try to live that way regardless of any perceived or real hurt? When we take the time to tear down the walls of our differences, we all want to live a happy, healthy life in pursuit of our dreams. If we continue to fight over who has more of a right to feel angered, saddened or oppressed, we’re missing the bigger picture. Please, let’s instead choose to live life with love and respect.