There was a big peace march in Washington a few years back. I watched as my husband made a sign to carry and my son painted slogans on a T-shirt. “Sure you don’t want to come?” my husband asked me.
He knew that I was sympathetic to the cause. I felt just as strongly as he and all our friends, who were going, did. But I just couldn’t go. I begged off, saying I wasn’t comfortable with the crowds.
But the thing that made me uneasy wasn’t just the number of people gathered there. It was the mob mentality of a large group of people who feel they are right, even if I agree with them. It was the absolutism lurking in the liberal ideals. To me it felt just as scary as any other kind of intolerance.
On the other hand, I know it takes a kind of fervor and belief to change things. But there is a fine line there, and somehow group protests, while I respect them, walk too close to that line for me. What scares me is the self-congratulatory, undiscriminating nature of the mob. I think of the French Revolution, I picture those Nazi rallies, and I fear the self-complacency of knowing that you are right.
I wonder if it has to do also with the fact that I come from a family in which the liberal is a rare bird. Four of my siblings are staunch conservatives, Republicans. I love them dearly, and the fact that these people whom I love are the evil enemy of the peace march gives me pause.
It forces me to accept a contradiction, knowing both things to be true. They are the enemy, but they are also my family. We do not agree, but I have to accept that they are thoughtful and compassionate people who have come to the opposite conclusion about how things should be. I must admit that it’s hard for me to disagree so profoundly yet still respect and love them. Sometimes I wish I could agree with my siblings and not be troubled by these uncomfortable differences of opinion.
This brings me to what I believe: I believe we are all doing the best we can. The other side isn’t any more ignorant or selfish than we are; they are not big business or big brother or the international monetary fund. They are just like me. I choose to respect their opinions, even as I disagree with them.
I am grateful that my children must accept this diversity, too. They can’t just dismiss the other side as evil. They are forced to love the enemy because the enemy is their loved one. The love came first.
It seems to me that here in my family is an essential element of our democracy: we agree to disagree. Our ability not only to accept, but to respect, our differences is our common ground.