A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch watching T.V attempting to rest after a particularly busy day. In a home with four children this never goes the way that I want it to but I always hold out hope that this time will be different. A few minutes into my reprieve however, I heard what sounded like a death match taking place in one of my kid’s rooms! When I could finally ignore it no longer, I jumped into what I knew would be an irrational, hyper-emotional confrontation over something that does not matter. This is how it always goes. I attempt to interject reason into an environment where reason has no place and I end up settling on separation and imposed peace. When we are done each person goes to their room mad about how they have been mistreated. No longer is the original issue important, only that they were right and everyone else was wrong. I don’t feel too bad though. They are kids and they will begin to see life more rationally as they mature. I can’t be upset with kids acting like kids.
After dealing with this most recent battle for sibling superiority I made my way back to the couch hoping to finally get a break. Then I turned on the news. There would be no break. There was yelling and blaming and passionate explanation about how the world would come to an end if the “other side” got their way. What was lacking was any real discussion about the events themselves.
With the tragic news of mass shootings and the continued reporting on border issues has come a whole new flood of accusation. Racism, hatred of immigrants and the Second Amendment are the only possible explanation, at least from the perspective of some. But there are counter accusations as well. If not for failed policies and anti-American agendas, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this. To raise a question about race or immigration or guns means that you MUST hate America! Clearly there can be no conversation about the issues. Instead, each side will level statements of condemnation toward the other which will work to keep both sides securely isolated.
The environment of tribalism, dividing people into groups that they’ll defend without question, works well when the goal is winning elections based on rhetoric instead of truth. Keeping people divided is the best way to gain and maintain power. Clear lines are drawn and each of us must pick a side. Then we wonder why Americans feel more isolated and alone today than at any other point in our history! Not only are we not allowed to speak with those that have positions different than ours, we’re not allowed to voice questions or concerns to those with whom we identify! To question is to express disloyalty and loyalty is the most important virtue of the tribe.
But here’s the problem:
When clarifying questions and intelligent debate are forbidden, individual isolation, fear, anxiety, depression and harm to self or others are the bi-product and should be expected. The need for civil public discourse is not only about creating good policy; it is about creating a national environment where disagreement does not lead to violence and individuals are free to express their own opinions or ask for help (when needed) without fear of rejection. Humans have always found a tribe and there is no indication that this is going to change. The call to honest debate is not a call to eliminate sides. It is about making sure that regardless of side we can exist in a way that supports the individuals that make up those sides. That we would be more concerned with the truth, even if we disagree on its application, than we are in simply protecting our tribe.
When dealing with my children I expect for them to act like children. Expecting anything else would be unreasonable. Children are completely driven by emotion and the urgency of the moment and will respond accordingly. Because they’re kids. It is time for the rest of us though, to stop acting like children who lack the maturity to ask and answer questions while drawing conclusions based on facts! If we don’t, our immaturity and overriding desire to be true to the tribe will keep us isolated in a never-ending cycle of fear, anxiety and depression.
It’s time to grow up! It’s time to talk.
Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash