This I Believe

Diane - Nevada City, California
Entered on November 14, 2006

(working title) CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG? or maybe, “Anybody seen God lately?”

So, are liberals a bunch of silly, hand-wringing, America-hating, spotted-owl-loving, doom-predicting, over-entitled, lazy, atheistic whiners who never mow their lawns and just want to give those poor, misunderstood terrorists and drug-crazed serial killers a little love so they’ll see the light and start being nice?

Are conservatives a bunch of intolerant, militaristic, greedy, Bible-thumping, earth-poisoning, science-hating, materialistic bigots who just want bigger, newer SUV’s and to live like kings compared to the 99% of the world whose lives they know little or nothing about, and whom they don’t mind killing several hundred thousand of if it will allow us to continue to live in comfort?

Or are there, perhaps, more charitable ways to look at both sides? I submit that there are. However much we agree or disagree with the ideologies of “the other side”, we all have a choice to make, a critical one that may determine the ability of this country to solve the monumental problems it faces.

We can continue the current trend of stereotyping and disdain, seeing the other side as stupid or, worse, evil.

OR, we can start giving each other the benefit of the doubt. We can assume that, as I absolutely believe, most of us have good intentions, all of us need the same things, and those needs are reasonable. The ways we try to fill those needs vary, not because of any intrinsic good or evil streak, but because of the roads our lives have taken and the emotional bag of tools we set out with.

Can we try to disarm a bit? How about this, for starters:

“Liberals” believe in/want:

The secular and the sacred to be kept separate; government that’s not involved in anyone’s relationship with God. Faith as a personal search for meaning, for being better than we are.

Social justice; committment to fair treatment and well-being of people worldwide.

Quality health care as a birthright, not a product.

Civil rights and civil liberties – the freedom to be left alone, as long as no one is being harmed.

Legal protections of the environment and of the powerless from abuse by the powerful.

Government involvement in ensuring that these things happen, if necessary, to counteract the natural greed that sometimes taints human nature.

“Conservatives” believe in/want:

Preservation of and respect for values of family, committment, duty, self-responsibility, reward for hard work, and faith.

Acknowledgement of people enterprising enough be successful.

Accountability for unacceptable behavior.

A free, self-correcting market; those who are successful deserve to enjoy that success, and their wealth will eventually benefit everyone.

Trust in basic goodness of Americans, particularly as guided by faith. People will be moved to help those less fortunate.

Safety, from threats within and without the U.S. – terrorism and crime. A strong military and police force to provide that safety.

Minimal government meddling in their lives.

Though these descriptions are less inflammatory, they may still rile up one side or the other. The following needs are, I think, something we can ALL agree on. We need:

Safety, for ourselves and those we love.

Respect

Enough. Enough food, shelter, warmth, comfort.

Trust; to BE trusted, and to be able to believe what others say.

Pride; to be able to take pride in our behavior, as individuals and as a nation.

Connection. Love, even.

Autonomy; being “let be”; freedom to seek happiness as we see fit, as long as no one is harmed.

Beauty

Contentment (and, most importantly:)

Meaning, which brings me to my second point. (What, you might ask, was the first one? I’ll let you know when I figure it out. . .)

We as a nation, perhaps as a species, are facing a real and deep spiritual crisis. Our hunger for meaning, for a committment to something greater than ourselves, is one that we can no longer afford to ignore. And our widely divergent approaches to this hunger have contributed to the animosity across the political divide. The enemy is not each other. The enemy is the “God-shaped void” we’re trying to fill with everything but what can truly fill it. (For the record, I think it’s entirely up to you how you define God, or don’t)

If our need for meaning is filled, we can manage(530) without the rest – take as evidence: Job in the Bible; torture survivor and author Isabel Allende; Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. These and others have survived the kinds of losses and cruelties most of us only have nightmares about, yet they’ve come away with faith and compassion intact. The part of us that is divine and eternal cannot be harmed by assaults on the body. It can, however, be starved while we try to feed other, invented appetites.

Our lives are becoming an endless search for “more” – more things, more comfort, more power, more attention, more excitement, more love, more sex, more happiness. Buddhism has a symbol for this, called the “hungry ghost”, a tragically insatiable, bloated but hollow being with a tiny mouth – always craving, always consuming, always hungry, never full. Never full.

I see this ghost in myself, as well as in our behavior as a nation. We are consummate “wanters”. Think of all the things you’ve wanted, and the ones you’ve gotten. Has your level of wanting changed? Has the feeding of those appetites made you more content?

I’ve wanted and gotten many things in my life: a bike, a Brownie Camera, a car, male attention, a boyfriend, a husband, two above-average children, recognition for talents, financial stability. None of these things is bad; what I see, though, is that each one is like the crest of a hill – the moment of exhilaration at arriving there, of “getting”, followed almost immediately by a view of the next hill, the next thing I need to be happy.

And while I’m laboring toward that next peak, there’s much I don’t see. A sunrise, an exquisite red leaf, walnut leaves turning yellow and falling like snow in the sun. The amazing, funny, light-filled beings that are my kids. The people who love me, and the goodness in people.

Can we try something new, just for kicks? Can we try feeding ourselves with meaning, beginning with compassion and generosity? Can we try assuming goodwill – not just in people who agree with and resemble us, but in the ones who infuriate us? And can we try talking with the goal of understanding instead of converting?

I can’t believe that, if we pool the collective wisdom of this brilliant and messy thing we call humanity, we can’t find solutions. We have real problems, and big ones: terrorism, global warming, nuclear-armed lunatics, poverty, drug addiction, crime, corruption, injustice. Maybe we should stop lobbing verbal grenades long enough to work together. Maybe we should clamber together to some higher ground. It’s so crazy it just might work.