This was a ridiculous week in America, one among many, but notable in that a viral video which captured the attention of every adult I know as well as every news channel and social media outlet in the country was one which my 18-year old son wouldn’t even consider watching because he knew it was bait.
It’s so comfortable to be around people who share our own opinions, backgrounds, life experiences and political affiliations. We often choose our friends based on similarities and likenesses. As children, we meet friends through shared activities, common communities, similar living arrangements. In fact, it takes some work on our parents’ part to expose us to different cultures, ideas, beliefs and viewpoints. And, so, we learn very early to gravitate towards our mirrored selves. And this is problematic.
A year or so ago, I was out with a friend, a friend with a similar belief system to my own. We shared children of the same ages, as well as education levels, political affiliations, parenting opinions, musical tastes, income level, etc. And, being in America during what will eventually likely be known as the Age of Trump, we spoke at length about politics, social justice, women’s rights, racism, homelessness, and every other thing we could think of. We agreed on most everything, and mostly that more needed to be done by citizens like us. And at one point during the evening, she asked, “what would you think about getting together a group of like-minded people to talk through some of these issues?” And I bristled. And I wasn’t sure why. But I know now why this made me cringe, and it had nothing to do with my wonderful friend or the need for both conversation and action.
Like-mindedness. Like-minded people. Though true that we tend to reflect the people we choose to surround ourselves with, by surrounding ourselves only with our own points of view, we stunt our own growth and further distance ourselves from differing ideas. And we exacerbate the problems in our neighborhoods, our schools, our cities and our country. And we all do it every day, encouraged and guided by media, social and otherwise, the juvenile need to always be right, and the ease of being with ‘like-minded’ individuals.
People don’t enjoy moving out of their comfort areas. Why on earth would we? The better question is why should we. I think that today the distance between my far right-leaning neighbor (and I use this term broadly) and me is greater than that between the newly arrived immigrant and me. I think that today my unwillingness to listen to or acknowledge the thought behind my right-leaning neighbor’s life experiences and resulting opinions is a far more formidable wall than any language barrier could be. I think that our country is so divided not solely based on our beliefs, our life experiences, our economic status, our tastes in music, clothing and lifestyle choices, but rather simply by our need for confirmation, our striving for rightness, our unwillingness to travel outside of our comfort areas, listen without judgement to the experience of others, invite those not of like mind to join our conversations.
And our children, they are watching. They are learning from our example, our willingness to judge, exclude, and shut down ideas different from our own. And to me this is America today, the land not of opportunity, open arms and vibrant ideas, but rather the land of exclusion, division and the striving for like-mindedness. Our kids’ reaction, I hope, like my son’s, will be to rebel, to listen, to reject single-mindedness and conformity, and to embrace the ideas and opinions of others not as their own, but rather as a place to visit, learn from and find growth.