Sunday, January 9, 2011

Civil War?

The holidays are over. It's a brand new year. And I'm back with my first post in a while. The class is over, so what do we write about now? Unfortunately, watching the news this morning sort of forced my hand. What is wrong with this country when we are shooting our elected leaders simply because they don't agree with us? Are we on the verge of a Civil War? Not the "two defined regions participating in a military conflict" kind of Civil War we fought in 1863, but the "small bands of conservative rebels out to take power through fear" kind they are all too familiar with in countries like Colombia. Not here. Not in America. Well...?

On a sadly ironic note, Representative Gifford spoke out against the vitriol being used by our elected leaders to drum up anger and passion in voters. She warned that there would be consequences if groups like "The Tea Party" continued using loaded language to rile up supporters. Someone should "assassinate him" has been uttered far too often in every day discussions about leaders, even President Obama. Where have we gone and where are we going? It's scary.

It was never like this when George Bush was president. No matter how much the Left, Center, and even the Right at times lashed out at Bush in hatred, it never got to this level. For some reason Obama has become a lightening rod for pure hatred of people who simply disagree with your beliefs. Take a look around! There are probably people at your job, at your school, in your own house that don't agree with everything you do. Your wife, your sister, your closest friends may not agree with what you believe. Do you hate them? No. You agree to disagree. Why, then, does this reality not trickle up into our political theater.

Elected leaders of the United States of America, the greatest nation on Earth, there is a reason you are called LEADERS! When you lose, when the votes come in on issues such as health care, tax cuts, anything for that matter, the correct reaction is to be a good sport, shake the other guy's hand, and move forward. Drumming up hate in order to save face and stay in power is not the lesson I want you teaching my kid. I want my kids watching the player that watches the other team run out the clock in the victory formation and goes over and hugs the other teams quarter back, wishing him luck in his next playoff game. I do not want my kids watching the player that takes a pot shot at the other team's quarter back as he takes a knee just because he can. You talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.

Are we hypocrites, or what? Here we are hunting the planet for terrorists while we breed them right here in our country. Sure, we don't have organized groups looking to affect political change through murder and mayhem--YET! Many Americans look at the Middle East like they're some kind of backward, violent heathens since they raise, cultivate, and produce folks capable of such atrocities. Look around America, we're producing them here, they just have guns instead of hijacked jets. Our political discourse has elevated to jihadic levels right here in the good 'ole USA.

So what's the solution? Gun control? We have to think about it, but can't terrorist Americans looking to affect political change through fear simply get guns illegally or use even more dangerous weapons like 747s or anthrax? No, we need to stop trying to treat the symptoms and treat the disease. We need to educate, set examples, and change our ways. We need to preach tolerance.  For much too long we've thought of tolerance as a racial thing or maybe a religious one. It needs to extend to all areas where we differ as human beings. Religious tolerance, racial tolerance, political tolerance, handicap tolerance, sexual tolerance, gender tolerance--all tolerance. We need to realize that everyone is different, so no matter how terrible our lives may get, no matter how much we feel like we need a scapegoat, we cannot simply shoot everyone we don't agree with.

Now, I know what's going to happen. We're going to brand this guy a lunatic. We're going to say he had this problem and that. He was a loner. A recluse. He was on the verge of snapping since he turned 13. Whatever. We're going to use every excuse possible to turn our attention away from the real issues, to avoid examining our own demons. But that's not going to solve anything. Look deep inside yourself. The evil is there. We're all capable of atrocities if pushed far enough for long enough. The more we listen to the piss and shit being excreted from the mouths of politicians and political activists only concerned with power and their own personal agendas, the larger the chance more and more of these "lunatics" are going to be coming out of the wood works. How many have to die? How many leaders have to be targeted? How much pain and anguish need to be caused to families across the country before we learn? I know one "tragedy in Tucsan" is enough for me to try and affect change.

Two years ago, in an English class I was teaching, I had a girl wonder why we were debating religious and political issues so often when it was impossible to change anyone's mind, and we just kept going around in circles seemingly getting nowhere. The class seemed to agree. I didn't have an answer for her that day, but I went home and thought about it.

The next day, at the start of class, I gave a little speech. I told them that we lived in a world where pro-life activists have murdered abortion doctors and people with political differences hijack planes and drive them into buildings to make their points, a world where political and religious discourse has elevated to the point where people are killing each other over differences of opinion. I told them the idea isn't to change minds, but to voice opposing opinions without losing respect for one another. Without losing our heads. And to understand each other's side of the story without hatred or condemnation. The class was quiet. They were moved. They got it.

And I'd like to think that lesson will stay with them for the rest of their lives. This stuff can be taught, and it's up to us adults to do it. It's up to parents, teachers, and religious leaders to spread the word to our youth, to tomorrow's future. But most importantly, it's up to our elected leaders, the one's who spend their lives embroiled in this political discourse, to set examples--as leaders for God's sake--for the rest of us to follow. If not, we're only a few more incidents away from Columbia, from Civil War. I, for one, don't have the energy or time to fight one. So, as Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world" and start setting the example of tolerance...before it's too late.


  1. This may be the most important entry you have ever posted. Most of the issues you have written about in the past would be termpered by practicing tolerance. Your classroom example rings true. Students do listen to rational, heartfelt answers to hard questions , especially their hard questions. Teachers and parents need to embrace every question mark at the end of their sentences.

  2. Very well said. The biggest problem in effecting this kind of change is that people need to want it first, and I have serious doubt that enough people in America really want it. I've often thought that when people get together in small groups of maybe less than 10 they seem to be able to get along and work our their differences reasonably. But the more people you add the faster the IQ and tolerance drops until as a nation we've devolved to the point where it's just a quagmire of hatred. I do my part every day by raising my kids to believe that everyone has the right to believe and be whatever they want. I teach my kids not to make choices or judgments until they've looked at all the different sides and options, and that understanding is more valuable than anything else. Living in a small religious, republican midwest community, my kids run into peers every day whose parents teach them that if someone doesn't practice the same religion they are somehow not as good, and if they disagree politically then it's okay to hate them. I'm at a loss to understand it. How can people live with that much hate in their hearts?

  3. It's just so basic and simple that it's frustrating that everyone can't just get it. Living in anger isn't FUN. It's not HAPPY. The sooner you learn to be accepting and forgiving, the sooner you'll just live the happier existence you think you're going to get by fighting all these mini-wars. "All you need is is all you need."