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Absolutes Kill-Absolutely

We live in a world of absolutes, and it is slowly killing us. We are absolutely right, and our opponent, whoever they are, is absolutely wrong. We don't leave the slightest space for the possibility that there's a part of "their" perspective that might be true or interesting enough to further research. This absolutism was never more clear than in politics today and the many social issues, embraced by both major political parties, debated on a national scale.

There's no space to hold a moderate stance or an opinion that considers both sides of an issue or point. You run the risk of being completely ostracized by your friend group, family members, and work colleagues etc. if you oppose the narrative embraced by the whole. I listened to a news story this week about individuals who have lost friendships and ties to family members for their political beliefs and candidate of preference. It's as if the divisiveness playing out on social media has crept into the sacred spaces of our homes and gatherings (real or virtual) with our friends. These conflicts are real and create higher levels of stress and anxiety that have a major impact on our bodies, hearts, and minds.

With all the dire predictions of what will happen following the U.S. 2020 election, everyone is on edge. However, the truth is that we, citizens of these divided United States, can control what happens next. It's going to take courage. You can ask yourself now whether you have the ability to dig deep to find the courage to walk across ideological lines with the hope and intent to build bridges and repair broken friendships and familial relationships. It's either that or you will need to find a different type of courage, the kind that it takes to protect yourself and your loved ones from complete anarchy if this country devolves into chaos over the coming days, weeks, and months. It's easier to risk your pride than your life, so to me, the choice is clear.

To be clear, no one is saying give up your values and beliefs in exchange for being re-embraced by loved ones who share different values and beliefs. What I am saying is that until you are willing to go beyond the surface and ask the deeper questions that explore why they believe what they believe, why they vote the way that they vote, or why they do the things that they do, you will never be able to heal the rift that is needed to save this country from imploding. Opposing political viewpoints don't make someone your mortal enemy. Every Biden/Harris supporter is not pro-choice, and every Trump supporter is not a racist. It seems that statement is revolutionary and can blow your mind to think that way. These issues are so much more complex, but we want to keep things so surface and simple that we end up being the "simple" ones who refuse to embrace the complex reality that no person is all good, and no person is all bad. Away with these dangerous absolutes!

I will end with a personal story that prompted me to write this blog. I live in a city in upstate New York, where there are many blue-collar, working class neighborhoods and a few white collar enclaves comprised of several concentrated blocks throughout the city. I haven't seen many Trump or Biden signs in my community, but instead, more signs for local races. With one very real exception, our next-door neighbors had a Trump sign on their lawn in 2016 and again in 2020. In 2016, I won't lie; it hurt like hell when I pulled into the driveway and saw that sign for the very first time. It strained my relationship with them, but only I and my family knew about my feelings. I never shared these feelings with my neighbors and haven't to this day. What I did do was label them as racist and minimized any contact with them as much as possible. We were still cordial and offered greetings. We'd engage in random banter about the weather from time to time, something that we had always done, so as far as they know/knew, nothing had changed. However, I am inclined to believe that they knew that a lawn sign for Trump would not go unnoticed by their African American neighbors. How they felt about that, I cannot say.

Recently, our family has been in two situations that put us in a position to rely on these neighbors. The alternative to not depend on them could have had negative financial consequences. One involved our needing the neighbor's reference for a senior-level background security check for a phenomenal new employment opportunity. The other was our needing to share their water line for an extended period when we had a water main break. In both instances, they were happy to help and did so without hesitation, for, after all, they said, isn't that "what neighbors are for." I am smart enough to know that a willingness to help out one's neighbors does not mean an individual is not racist. But now, I am also smart enough to know that a sign on a lawn does not automatically mean that a person is racist. After all, I know plenty of liberal democrats that are as racist as some known racist, conservative republicans.

All of these things are more complicated than the media, social or otherwise, lets on. It's deeper than presented, and as long as I stay at the surface with assumptions, I will never know the heart of my friend, family member, or that neighbor with the Trump sign on their lawn. The only way to save our country and save ourselves is to find the courage to go deep and cross the lines of difference to learn what truly resides in people's hearts and we only can do that by listening and communicating. If we see malice, anger, and bias, then we have choices to make. One, do we love the person without liking their views; 2) do we live peaceably side by side, agreeing to disagree or social and political issues, or 3) do wish them well and disengage for our own mental health? Whatever our decision, we need not be dragged continuously down a rabbit hole of fear, degradation, hostility, or in extreme cases a desire to incite violence.

Negative and hostile feelings kill us, not the person that they are directed towards. Let's channel those negative feelings instead into positive action for the causes we care so greatly about and leave the negativity behind. That's how we survive and thrive individually. That's how we advance change collectively. That's how our country refrains from violence and chaos. That's how our children grow up without another civil war on U.S. soil. That's how we protect our homes, religious institutions, loved ones, and our own peace of mind. In the season, at this time, I call upon all of us to strive for more than peace of mind, but also, peace with one another.

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