Maybe it’s time for us to start looking for new ways to force people out of their geographical and digital bubbles and help them to see that we have more in common than we do differences. Domestic exchange programs and building a new Civilian Conservation Corps would be great places to start, developing friendships and connections that potentially last decades. There is no shame in loving our homes and taking great pride in our towns, cities, and states. The problem is when we see those towns, cities, and states as “the best of all possible worlds,” to borrow a phrase from Candide.
We aren’t all walking around with signs on us telling people what we are dealing with or revealing our pasts. Like many, I’m also guilty of sitting on my high horse from my social media dais making proclamations about issues that I know very little about without getting curious about why my opponents feel so different from me. I’m guilty of seeing myself as superior in my knowledge and understanding of the world around me. I’m guilty of looking down on those who do not see the world as I do. But what if, instead of just attacking those who we disagree with, we just started by asking “why do you feel this way?” What if we committed to being more inquisitive? What if we started by having a conversation instead of just making assumptions?
Reading opens up our world and helps reinforce the idea that we don’t know it all, and that it’s ok that we don’t know everything. When we read a variety of perspectives or books that challenge long-held ideas and force us to defend or even adjust our world-view, we grow as individuals and as citizens. We learn that answers are not easy and the world is complicated and even the smartest people don’t have all of the answers and sometimes get it wrong.
We need to do better. We need to care for each other, particularly the weakest amongst us, as we search for the answers that will bring us to a new, better normal. We need to earn the trust of our neighbors, acting in a way that allows them to truly believe that we are acting in their best interests, not just our own. And we need to accept that change is inevitable and help gently guide each other through to the other side.
When we consider the needs of the least of these, when we seek to improve the situation for the most vulnerable among us, we demonstrate a clear understanding of the interconnected nature of humanity. And in working to make the lives of others better, we create a safety net for ourselves should we ever be knocked off of our own feet. We are at a crossroads, people questioning an overhaul of the entire system. I would argue that we don’t need to turn the Constitution upside down. But we can’t leave people outside in the cold just because we see it as benefiting our immediate self-interests. It’s time we start thinking long term, considering the human cost, and finding a better way.
Meaningful change always starts when we seek to understand those who are different from us, in beliefs, experiences, and perspectives. I believe it is worth the effort, a way to break up the tribalism that haunts every corner of American society. I don’t want to see what we will become if we don’t try.