I’ve been working on a post for a couple weeks trying to explain Mississippi and what keeps me here, or what keeps me from running away as fast as I can. After writing, rewriting, editing, cutting, and starting over a dozen times, I put the draft aside to marinate in the sea of pros and cons of continuing to be a Mississippian until I can figure out how to not only organize my thoughts in a cogent manner but to present them without spiraling into a roiling cesspool of hateful, pointed vitriol directed at everyone with a differing opinion.
In this continual season of politics that we seem to be trapped in, like a jon boat in a whirlpool, perpetually circling an inescapable watery demise unable to paddle free of the downward-sucking liquid tornado, we’ve relegated our fellow countrymen and women to be nothing more than an ideology, forsaking bonds of family, friendship, religion, and even college football allegiance, corralling everyone into coveys of Republicans, Democrats, and psychos.
It’s assumed here that if you’re white, you’re a Republican, and it’s a fairly safe bet that the assumption would be correct. Liberal is a bad word. I would even go so far as to wager that most southern Republicans would rather be called a no good, godless, son-of-a-bovine prostitute than a liberal.
Not too long ago, instead of giving tacit approval to someone making generalized, hateful comments about liberals by going along without rebutting the speaker, who I have been historically friendly with, I commented that I consider myself to be pretty liberal. The response I got was that I wasn’t liberal, I just wasn’t as conservative as most folks. The speaker’s fondness toward me would not allow me to be viewed as a member of such a distasteful group of miscreants.
Conversely, the average liberal here views conservatives as backwoods, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathers that wave the constitution and the bible without correctly interpreting either. However, I know these conservatives to be family and friends with good hearts who have a different world view.
Yes… I get angry and fall into the trap of generalization, lumping everyone with a different opinion into a not-so-pleasant category of lesser humans. But, therein lays the problem gripping our country right now that has led to crippling polarization, dragging the public policy machine down to a grinding, arduous creep.
Today, the likeness of a good politician, a statesman has morphed into the polar opposite of what I think it should be. When I think back through the annals of US history to the names of the statesmen that walked the revered halls of Congress, I think of Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, John Hay, and others that were known for their abilities to unite differing factions, resulting in solid policies where everyone left the table with something.
The current political culture seems to punish attempts at compromise. When one side concedes to a demand, instead of the other side accepting the concession and offering a concession of its own, the original concession is viewed as a weakness to be exploited, and suddenly the original demand is not enough anymore. The game has come to not be about compromise. It’s become a fight for ideological purity. It’s about getting all that can be gotten and shutting down the process if the goal isn’t met.
What’s it going to take to get us to remember that that slimy liberal or that oatmeal-brain conservative is not just some inanimate representation of a political object? How do we get to a place where we don’t immediately bristle and make intelligence assumptions when we learn that a new acquaintance isn’t our ideological equal? I don’t have the answers, if there are any.
The only thing I can control is me. The only change I can affect is the change that starts within me. I hope that I can have some influence on others, but even if I do affect their mindset, they have to be the ones that ultimately make the decision to impact their sphere of influence.
We’ve just begun a fresh new year and will soon be under new leadership, new leadership that scares many of our countrymen to death and emboldens others to let their freak flags fly. No matter on which side of the aisle your desk sits, let 2017 be your year to replace suspicion and hatred toward your neighbor with love and understanding.
Take the time to learn about those who differ from yourself. Find out where they’re from and what their life experiences have been. If you get to know someone, understand them, you’re less likely to see them as one-dimensional, and you’re more likely to treat them with compassion instead of fear and distrust. That’s the first step toward the respect needed to start the process of healing the wounds that have been opened through the current atmosphere of political divisiveness.
Every journey begins with a single step….
Stay tuned for a piece on Mississippi as my home. Maybe I’ll eventually figure out how to sort everything out and tell the story without my own political prejudice.