Yesterday, I wrote you a long, heartfelt post. After crafting it for about 2.5 hours, I finally hit “Publish”—just to find out that my internet was down and had been down long enough that my post wasn’t even auto-saving as I wrote it. At that point, I did the only thing I could: I got in bed and took a nap.
Though I can’t bring myself to rewrite what I spent so much precious time on yesterday, I do think it’s worth taking a few moments to paraphrase what I had tried to illuminate so thoroughly in that post. Here goes:
I have been created by the culmination of my life up to now. I am a complex mix of what I was born with, what my parents have wanted for me, what I have discovered for myself, what I have struggled with, what has happened to me outside my control, and what decisions I have made. I am complicated, just as you are complicated. Too often in this world, we are encouraged by various forces to look at other people simplistically–to judge them as if one aspect or decision or belief is the core of their being, instead of merely one facet of their being. And while I have certainly been guilty of doing that plenty of times, I fight against it within myself, because when I am divided from my fellow people by thinking they are just one aspect of themselves, I lose out on the beauty that’s inherent in complexity. I lose out on being able to accept myself as a complex person. I lose out on knowing and understanding people who have much in common with me and who have much they could teach me if I would remain open to it despite our differences.
It’s hard to realize that other people are the center of their own lives—with their lives validating their current belief systems—just as much as we are at the center of ours. And it’s hard, sometimes, to accept how differently they will view certain things than we do. We think, “Why don’t you see it my way? My way is so clear! My way is right!” And perhaps it is (I do believe in some absolute truths), but our particular beliefs are also because of how our individual experiences have culminated in those beliefs.
If we can pause our judgments to look for the values and beliefs that bring us together, instead of the issues that tear us apart, there’s much good we can do in this world. I know that for a fact, because in the three years I spent working for Habitat for Humanity, throughout many frustrations, I was often very moved. I watched white, married, corporate CEOS and black, single, bus-driver moms frame windows together. I watched Jews, Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths or no faith work together to raise money for houses. I watched frat boys, hardcore feminists, and stay-at-home moms work as a unit to hold siding against a wall and pop it into place with nail guns. I felt spaces in myself shift to make room for others as I saw people who had very different belief systems and backgrounds find common ground in an activity they could all believe in.
There have to be other issues where the collective power of people who care, whatever their beliefs and backgrounds, can take precedence over the various ways those people are divided from each other. Even if we can’t all get our way with all issues (and we can’t, of course), and even if we rightfully want to expend a chunk of energy on issues where we are divided, surely there are vital issues where we can also work together because of what most of us believe. I think about the future of our planet—whether our views are that we want to take action for saving animals from extinction, keeping the planet viable for humans, or caring for God’s creation, surely we can agree with others (many others, of all walks of life) that we’re creating too much trash and pollution, and that we can and must do better. I think about the financial mess—and how, nearly worldwide, we’re in a place where people are going to have to make decisions with thrift, humility, love, and sacrifice to take better long-term care of ourselves and others with our choices. I think about food—and how we know that we need to be eating more whole foods and less junk, considering the impact of our food choices on ourselves and all who are involved in the food processes, and protecting children from obesity before they are in a position to make educated choices for themselves. Surely, around issues like these, we can work together whether we are coming at them from a religious, humanistic, familial, or other point of view—even if the people working with us are people with whom we could not discuss some other topics without getting upset.
There’s plenty to divide us, and that’s not going away. But the problems we can choose to face together, whatever our backgrounds and beliefs, aren’t going away, either, and get more entrenched while we choose the glee of finger-pointing self-righteousness (I know it well, having been guilty of it)—from either side of these divides—over the difficult, important work of coming together. Let’s remember that we’re not red or blue: we’re people. There’s much to be done—let’s teach each other how to do it together.