Get out while you still can. In the week leading up to July 4th, one of my favorite holidays, I am feeling extremely discouraged about the state of my country, but it might not be for the reason you expect.
Yesterday was a beautiful day in my area, and my husband and I drove slowly around his old, well-to-do neighborhood with the car windows rolled down, just taking in the peaceful scenery and pretty gardens. As we passed two ladies taking a walk, I smiled and waved, only to have one ignore me and the other set her jaw, narrow her eyes, and glare at me suspiciously. That keeps happening. The past 3 times I have tried to give a friendly smile and wave at a random person, I have gotten that look. One year ago, it never happened.
We had new neighbors move in next door a few months ago. I had really enjoyed the previous tenants, they were very friendly, down-to-earth people, but these new neighbors seem to wear a continual “back off” sign on their faces. A lot of my neighbors are like that, though. When we first moved in ten years ago, no one came over to introduce themselves, no one left a little note of welcome.
So I took it upon myself to introduce our family. I made tiny gift boxes with our contact information and passed them out to our immediate neighbors. I never got any kind of response. The family across the street will occasionally ask for random things, and at one point we seemed to be on good terms with them. Then something happened (I’ll probably never know what) and they no longer talk to us.
My neighborhood has a poor sense of community. My city has a better one. My state has a poor sense of community, and sadly, my country appears to have none.
As the old song says, “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds” (thank you, Elvis, for your words of wisdom and truth). As the even older saying goes, “United we stand, divided we fall” (thank you, Mr. Lincoln).
But America is full of suspicious minds. Has it always been so? With all the information now at our fingertips, both factual and pseudo-scientific, with all the various ways we can communicate with one another today, rather than build each other up, rather than share ideas for the betterment of society, rather than learn from each other, rather than help each other, America has degenerated into one hateful, spiteful, cesspool of fear-mongering and one-upmanship (have you read social media comments, lately?).
People have always feared what they don’t understand, but at one point in our history, I believe those in our country actually respected educated people. Now they fear those who are educated: doctors, lawyers, writers, teachers, and choose to rely on themselves to home-educate, home-medicate, and read junk fiction (seriously, how was 50 Shades ever published without major revisions and editing?).
People fear each other: whites, blacks, Hispanics, old, young, educated, uneducated, LGBT, straight, stay-at-home, career-oriented, atheist, religious, Christian, non-Christian, traditional, progressive, liberal, conservative, gun toters, teetotalers, coffee drinkers, vegetarians, vegans, meat-eaters, big business, small business, CEOs, presidents, media, bloggers, historians…
Time to End This Little Game
It is nothing but fear and self-serving that have turned our communities, even our country into animal pens of rioting, shouting, and violence. We are so divided, prideful, afraid, and stubborn, we can’t get anywhere or make any progress towards important matters like improved education (who disagrees on that?). The only thing that appears to unite people is a tragedy, but even that doesn’t last longer than one week.
What are people so afraid of? Losing their status? Losing their comfort? How comfortable can you be as a frightened bug afraid of everything and everyone and their shadows? Or is it more a matter of gaining status, and trying desperately to stay on top of a mountain of bodies you climbed? How nice is it up there? Surely better than below, but can we not do better than this? Why have we forgotten how to trust our neighbors? How many dead will it take before we decide to live in peace with each other, again?
“We can’t build our dreams on suspicious minds…Let’s don’t let a good thing die.”
We have to stop talking AT each other, and start talking TO each other. We have to stop talking occasionally, and honestly listen to the other side. We don’t even have to agree! We just need to let the other person know that we respect their humanity (see, you don’t even have to respect their ideas, just their person!). We have to be humble and admit we don’t have all the answers, but someone else might. Even someone else on the opposing team. We need to stop labeling, we need to stop picking teams altogether. We are all people. We are all in this thing called “life” together. United we stand, divided we fall. Help America to stand.