I called my mother on my way home from work the other day, as I do at least once a week. She’s my best friend, and talking with her usually lifts my spirits and helps me see through the fog that clouds my vision sometimes. But this conversation was different. I found myself unable to stop venting about my feelings about the recent election, even though I had promised myself I wouldn’t talk about it when I hit the speed dial for her number. As I ranted and raved I could tell that all I was doing was making my dear sweet mother more and more uncomfortable – and she and I agree on most things. I felt awful when I hung up, because I knew my outburst had caused her grief, and that’s the last thing I ever want to do. She was upset because I was upset, and because there was absolutely nothing she, or anyone, could do about it.
I have struggled to find the words to express how I feel about the insanity that seems to have gripped me and almost everyone I know since the election. In the past I’ve been able to shake off those people who feel that they have to stridently voice and defend their political beliefs pretty easily – I simply ignore them. Being able to block people on Facebook has been a real blessing, as I’ve been able to keep certain people in my life who constantly rail against the evils of the “other side” because I don’t have to fucking listen to them. And I’m talking about people on both sides of these issues.
A few weeks before the election I unfollowed one of my oldest and dearest friends whose relentless political posting was driving me nuts. After I did that I found that my thoughts about this person, which had been trending towards the negative, returned to normal. I have since resumed following that person, but I’ve started to regret it as the rhetoric hasn’t chilled. This person has said that there is a certain issue that is totally unacceptable to them, and if any of any their friends support this particular thing, well, that that’s the end. They can no longer be friends with anyone who is on the wrong side of this line they’ve drawn. The thing is, I’m so far over that line that I wouldn’t make that cut, and I’m pretty sure my friend knows it, which makes me wonder if it’s not the having of the belief that is so offensive, but the sharing of it. I guess the only reason we’re still connected is that I’ve kept my online mouth shut about my beliefs. This line in the sand mentality from someone I have always loved grieves me more than I can say, and I’ve found myself alternatively wanting to put the ultimatum to the test – would you really unfriend me? – and doing what I’ve always done, which is disagreeing in silence.
We’re all so convinced we’re right. We’re all so convinced we know the truth. We’re all so convinced the other side is wrong that we’re refusing to listen to anyone who disagrees with us. And it is this conviction, much more than the actual differences of opinion, that will tear us apart.
The day you stop wondering if you’ve really got it all figured out is the day you stop growing and learning. It is the day you stop being able to empathize with people who are unlike you.
It is the day you make yourself God.
Not questioning why you believe what you believe is the height of hubris. If you are a person of faith, God does not require you to stop questioning; quite the opposite. “Ask and the answer will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” If you think you’ve got all the answers, ask yourself this question: Where are the answers coming from? Did another person give you the answer? Or did you, with humility and a genuinely open heart and mind, go to your creator, or the universe, or whomever you turn to for guidance – and ask? Or have you already decided that you know what God, or the universe, or whomever, thinks?
I try to question the things I believe and the assumptions I make. When I find myself taking a strong stance on something, I hold it up and I ask these questions:
“Why do I believe this is true?”
“Is it possible that I’m wrong?”
“Does this belief promote love and compassion for others, even those who disagree with me?”
If you won’t ask yourself these questions and accept the answers, whatever they may be, then you have chosen to deceive yourself. And just to be clear, that is a choice. But instead of pretending that isn’t the case, you should own your choice. You should proudly stand up and say “I don’t actually care if what I believe is based on misleading or false information or if what I believe causes pain to others – I’ve decided to believe it.” I see people on both sides doing exactly this, and it’s more terrifying to me than anything else that has come out of this horrible election.
I’m not asking everyone to gather in a circle and sing a song. We’re light years away from that. What I do ask – what I beg – is that everybody step off and take a breath. Stop feeling so self-righteous, and so determined to bludgeon the disbelievers into submission. Just stop. It’s not helping. It’s hurting you and everyone around you. And for what? So you can be right?
Is being right more important to you than your family and your friends? Are you willing to destroy lifelong relationships because you believe with your whole heart that you’re right and they’re wrong? Why?
Look, I get what’s at stake here, and I get just as caught up in it as anyone else – I’m not immune, or above it, or better than anyone else when it comes to things that are important to me that I feel are being threatened. I promise you that I will live my convictions and stand up for the kind of world I want this world to be.
But I’m not going to fool myself into believing that I have all the answers. I don’t. I don’t even know where to start on some of this stuff. So I will continue to hold my beliefs up to the light, and if they don’t pass the test, I will, with an open mind, continue to look for the truth. Even if I don’t like what I find.
And my friends, the one thing I am sure of is that the only truth worth knowing is love. And loving someone means you accept them no matter what they do or say. It’s the hardest thing you can do sometimes, but it’s the only thing that matters. Or so I believe.
Peace be with you.