“Be kind to all of your neighbors because they’re just like you, and you’re nothing special unless they are too.” – Typhoon
A few years ago a well-known actress announced publicly that she would be leaving the States to give birth to her daughter. So great was her chagrin over the political climate of our country – and so intense her opposition to the presidential candidate – that she couldn’t tolerate the thought of her child breathing its first breaths in America. Her statements were lauded by some, tweeted by others – and they ultimately became obsolete beneath the tidal wave of similar reactionary fomentation.
Yet, for whatever reason, as we celebrate Independence Day, I find myself remembering this odd situation, and wondering at the strangeness that is our collective sense of heroism. When did it become in vogue to scorn those with whom you disagree? When did divisiveness come to represent bravery? We see this every day across social media, where the brittleness of stored anger comes out in a way that could hardly be called civilized.
Most of us will gather with family this Fourth of July, and, most likely, many of us have family members with whom we don’t see eye-to-eye. Perhaps we have trouble embracing their political views, their lifestyles, or even their success. We stiffen in their presence, look away, or change the subject. Or, we may be spending time at a party this evening, scanning our counterparts and deciding who fits in which category based on whatever paltry evidence we’re able to gather within a glance. We may engage in some conversation or other, but we avoid the subject of our country and our beliefs – especially if we’re talking with someone who fits in a “less inhabitable” category than the one we prefer.
Granted, part of this is natural: it’s wired into our creaturly brains. And, too, old-fashioned virtue is still alive and well: it’s not as though we’re all harshly “liking” or “disliking” each person we encounter with the glibness of a Facebook interaction. But, while good old-fashioned heroism and virtue do still exist amongst us Americans today, and while we are naturally drawn to people who think they way we do (and that’s all right), the collective concept of what it means to be “loving” has dramatically changed across our cultural landscape. In this age, you can’t claim to be in support of something unless you loudly and systematically decry something else. You must raise up one belief in one hand, and destroy someone else’s belief with the other. Unless you are angry, and unless you’re willing to do something drastic, you are not truly “loving.” It’s no wonder, then, that we lack peace as a country.
How do we regain this peace? How to we regain an accurate understanding of heroism, pride of place, and responsibility? By remembering that we are a people who belong to one another. And this translates, in the simple and mundane everyday interactions of life, by approaching each person as just that: a person. Not as a problematic ideology; not as a hashtag or a slogan; not as the embodiment of everything we despise; not as an annoyance; not as a failure. No, but as a person, with a life full of memories and struggles and potential. Anything less than this will cause alienation, and it’s time we started healing that tendency toward fissure. As C.S. Lewis put it – “it matters enormously if I alienate anyone from the truth.”
So on this Fourth of July, as we lift our voices to sing “America The Beautiful”, perhaps we can stop to consider the fact that, for as majestic as the purple mountains and the amber waves of grain may be (and indeed, they are!), there is none more beautiful or awe-inspiring than our neighbor – whoever that may be.