Noxious forces lurk just below the surface of our most righteous agendas. They strain our friendships and relationships to the brink of fracture and draw us deeper into our socially-sterilized comfort zones until the equally cowardly options of retreat and violence suddenly seem like legitimate options. We Americans are enamored with the idea of our own greatness and resourcefulness, but apparently just until the going gets tough.
While emotional walls crumble and physical walls do—or don’t—get drawn up for construction by the fastest-talking government contractor, let us not forget that our problems are nothing new. Having been wrought by decades, if not centuries, of corporate influence, self-interest, and convenient neglect, our greatest political challenges are too large and too old to be solved by a single politician, or even a single party. Excluding persons pursuing direct harm to others (those we call terrorists), there are no opponents here, only fellow citizens and collaborators in executing, interpreting and modifying the laws of the United States of America. We fatally delude ourselves to believe that our deepest ideological rifts are caused solely by the mass-stupidity of others. Progress occurs through thoughtful, concerted, and mutual effort—and we, the people, must also be accountable.
Let us name one noxious force to which none of us are immune--ignorance. With few exceptions, arguments claiming to annihilate opposing viewpoints with telescopic accuracy persist only by limiting our perspective or by failing to examine the complexity of real-world problems. We only advance by understanding the reasons we do not agree, and we only uncover these reasons through honest and civil public dialogue. We are all political experts and we are all political idiots. We must always remember that the communication coin is indeed two-sided; we must not just speak, but also listen.
Freedom is the only American absolute; it must exist not in precarious balance with oppression, but universally and equally for all. We must not selectively apply freedom in accordance with our own personal creeds, but see our country and its problems as much larger than ourselves or our agendas. This is the vision of America that we, citizens and politicians alike, profess to hold dear—and it is the America we all lose when ideological feuds become deep nonnegotiable fissures. We might reasonably doubt that this bickering vision of America is not what our heroic armed forces fight and die for.
Let us then identify another noxious force that divides and threatens us--fear. Only through fear can we be convinced that another American’s freedom exists at the expense of our own. Let us confront, head-on, our sickening abundance of self-righteousness—perhaps first by acknowledging that, when a child expresses this behavior, we call it being a brat. Let us grow individually, and as a nation, through deep introspection and by acknowledging that each of us is but one American. Let us bring about the extinction of the fear-mongering lawmaker, not through acts of violence, but by using our most basic of democratic rights to elect those who prefer discussion over manipulation. Let us uphold the most essential American value to honor both the noble sacrifices of our veterans and those brave Americans who actively serve.
There is but one toxic inevitable child of ignorance and fear—and we call it hate. None of us want a broken, divided, and hateful America but, if we cannot work together, we deserve nothing more. If there is nobility in leaving this land better than we inherited it, let us act constructively by changing the system that exists to serve us; let us leave idealism and idolatry to the seething extremists; and let us always remember that even those with whom we most strongly disagree ultimately want the same things we do. Some people label this idea radical empathy—we might also hold ourselves to a higher standard and simply call it being American.
If you walk the morally infallible path, you will do everyone a favor by walking it quietly. The high road is both liberal and conservative, it is both honest and understanding, and it is paved with respect. Real change happens when we share and listen, reach out and reconsider, and—most importantly—humbly engage those with whom we share differences. These behaviors are not modeled for us by the television entertainers, internet trolls or ordinary politicians. Only we, the people, can choose consciousness over reactivity, collaboration over obstruction, and progress over perfection. We must acknowledge our fears and rise above ignorance. We must redefine patriot to include those who embody compromise and compassion—and we must start now, because we succeed and fail together.
P.S. After discussing my message above with my lovely and compassionate wife, I feel compelled to add a few remarks. I wrote this letter from an acknowledged place of privilege. I am, in fact, a man, with white skin, and a non-controversial sexual orientation. While I could reasonably claim to identify with an ethnic and/or religious minority group, my name and appearance exempt me from the most common and direct forms of bigotry. In Germany, circa 1930, things would have been different for me—and, indeed, things were quite different for my Grandfather and his family. I do not mean to imply that compassion and communication are easy—especially for those who feel immediately threatened by the acts and statements of others—but I stand true to my message. Compassion and tolerance take many forms and only through these acts do we move forward. Perhaps this simply means, rather than angrily pushing your chair away from the Thanksgiving table, you tell your opinionated friend or relative “I love you, and please respect the fact that I do not want to talk about this right now.” Perhaps it means you take your message of inclusion and compassion all the way to Washington D.C.. It’s a broad spectrum, but it all begins with small actions. Whether we meet over dinner, or I end up voting for you in the next election cycle, I hope we can work together to make America—and the world—a better place.
I'm Ethan, a guy whose life used to be controlled by ulcerative colitis. As I systematically tested diets, treatments, and all types of health advice to heal my colon, I learned a lot about my own biology and also how to cook without compromise. I'm here to share the best (and sometimes worst) of that journey with you.