Looking around at a Fourth of July party, I realized, many of my closest friends are my political opposites. How could this be? In a time when culture tells us to vilify the other, how are we able to stand together in the hot, humid sun over a flaming grill? When we’re told to chant and throw slurs across political isles, how is it that we are simply throwing bags across a lawn? At a time when America seems increasingly divided and evermore encouraged to berate and attack “others,” what then, on this Fourth of July, does it mean to be American?
I believe the answer lies in my opening sentence, “friendship.” If we are able to recognize and see “the other” as “friend” our great schism might soon be bridged.
Each political party does this already.
Within each side, the left rallies under pink pussy hats, and the right under red baseball caps, each respectively seeing the larger group as “one of us.” From “Black Lives Matter” to “Unite the Right” each party has their own political battle cries. From behind our signs and slogans we feel justified that our screams will subjugate the other side of the street. While I have stood and marched behind many protest banners, I now wonder if I missed a moment to establish a relationship with the person on the other side of barricade.
While I sit here sharing a drink with my left- and right- handed friends, I recognize how it is that we are bonded. Rather than immediately jumping into the thick of political idolatry, we ask about our families, how work is going, we enter into each others’ lives.
When we hear stories of awkward moments with our parents, we cannot help but consider the times our parents have made us red in the face. When we joke about all the stupid things we got away with in high school, tears stream down our faces as we gasp for breath between laughter. When we recant past mistakes, broken promises, and missed opportunities, we cannot help but recall our own moments of weakness and fear.
Storytelling is powerful. For when you listen to a story of the life of another, we are transformed into the pages of their lives and invited to find ourself walking amongst the chapters. Friendship lends itself easily into this quest. As friends, we mutually encourage one another and accept each sentence with the turning of our pages. When we see a friend in pain or trouble, we feel it with them. The same goes for love and joy, because we have walked their pages and know their stories.
Perhaps this is what we need to start doing.
Rather than shouting behind banners, perhaps we start sitting across tables. Rather than throwing slurs and insults, perhaps we toss a set of bags and play a game together. Rather than wishing to crack someones head in, perhaps we crack open a beer and share a conversation.
I have this sign hanging in my kitchen that a friend made for me, it reads: “No friends. No enemies. Only teachers.”
I wonder if this is the political direction we need to move towards. Rather than sitting in our own political friend groups berating and denigrating the “enemy” across the isle, perhaps it is time to consider what and how we might learn from one another.
I believe that love and fear are the core principles that drive each person. We love our family so much that we will do anything to protect them from that which we may fear. We fear that one group will take all of the jobs and we will no longer be able to provide for those that we love. We love someone so much that we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and stand against something even if we are scared.
Each action we take we do so with one foot in fear and the other in love. Perhaps if we can discover how and where this “love” and “fear” is being motivated and directed then we can learn how we are all connected. If we are able to step foot into the fearfully loving lives of another, then we can recognize our own moments of loving fear.
In terms of my own friends, while we may not have move one another from our respective political corners, we are able to understand how and why we might vote or a particular candidate, issue, or party. We can see from their perspective and realize that he’s not a fascist, or that she’s not a libtard. We can learn a great deal from our political opposites. Not how to work against them, but how to work with them.
It would be so much easier to just keep digging our heels in the dirt and yelling at one another, but eventually our voices will give out, our ankles will weaken, and we’ll both go home having learned nothing.
What does it mean to be American?
It means that we are all Americans. From the Second Amendment supporter, to the gender neutral bathroom supporter. From “Black Lives Matter” to “Blue Lives Matter.” From the refugee seeking a new home, to the tenth generation Mayflower descendants. From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters. If you live in any one of the fifty states and 16 territories of the United States of American then you are American. As such, it is our responsibility to reach over our fences and meet our neighbors.
We all live here, and we all want what is best for our family, our friends, and our country. We do not all have to agree, but we do need to learn to work together. Perhaps it is finally time “to dissolve [our] political bands” and establish “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” and recall “that all men are created equal.” Perhaps to be American it means that we must reestablish a friendship that respects the LIFE of everyone we encounter, that supports the LIBERTY to freely live and believe how one may desire, and that encourages our endowed PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS 1.