We have met the enemy and he is us. - Pogo
I’m tired. I work hard, I run hard, and I never seem to have enough fun. Everywhere I turn these days it seems someone is showing me their angry face, or I’m reading yet another snide blog post from someone who is angry at someone else who is taking all their hard-earned money and having a great life at their expense.
I’m so tired of the rhetoric.
The election is over and we’ve all moved on. Right? Wrong. And of course we shouldn’t just “move on.” That’s not how democracy works. We should all be ready to roll up our sleeves, dive in, and get this country back on track. All of us, We the People, not just the ones who vote the same as we do.
And that’s what is making me tired.
Seven years ago I started running. The people I run with are the best friends I have. We laid one to rest yesterday and perhaps it’s the reason I woke up this morning with these thoughts pushing their way to the front of my crowded brain. Things that once seemed important no longer do. Life is short, and I have some things to get off my chest.
My friends and I run crazy long distances for hours at a time, and no subject matter is off the table. Within my larger circle of running friends we rarely talk religion or politics, which pretty much mirrors life at large. I suspect most of us don’t talk religion or politics with our less close friends either. Within my smaller circle of running friends, however, religion and politics is what we talk about the most, kind of like what we do with our families.
Even amongst my less close running friends, we all get along great. We come from all walks of life, have very different jobs from one another, enjoy varying interests outside of running, and we break bread and toss back a cold beer together quite often. We really like one another.
Beer: the great equalizer
Of course we all stay in touch on Facebook when we’re not running together. But something happened these past two months. We had to choose our next president. For some people, Facebook suddenly became a battlefield. Things I never would have expected to see were posted, not just by my running friends, but by everyone. Some of the posts were funny, some rude, some mean, and some downright ridiculous. What bothered me the most wasn’t what was said — though some of it was very surprising — it was the vitriol behind the words, the hatred and disrespect if you felt differently.
The other day I read a blog post that disturbed me, but I couldn’t figure out why:
When we answer to each other, as we do now, we are only as successful as our neighbor allows us to be and he is only as prosperous as we permit him to be.
When one neighbor can pass a law or raise taxes on another neighbor, then we all lose making one man’s tax benefit another man’s income loss. This negative spiral of self-defeating tax and law resolutions causes every man to have a small piece of his own personal freedom (and income) taken away from him by his neighbor. In this way we each take turns taking from, and losing to, each other until in the end, everyone is just a slave to everyone else.
Many people feel this way. Even my better half leans in this direction, and I still love him. I find those words sad and cynical. What happened to being my brother’s keeper and all that? The fact that for this person his “neighbors” are the ones keeping him from personal happiness (and solvency), and his equating this to slavery, makes me wonder how we got so far off track. I appreciate his thoughts, though, because I’m trying really hard to understand views that are so different from my own.
(Personal aside that really bugs me about his post: he eventually throws in something about having to pay for his neighbor the teacher’s higher salary, health care benefits, pension, and school building improvements. Sigh. Those evil, greedy teachers who are once again out to steal money from those who have real jobs. At least he didn’t bring in the unions. For 18 years I was admired for being a teacher, and about two years ago I seemingly overnight became the root of all problems in this country, without even being a member of a union. Fighting teacher-hate makes me really tired. I apologize for the digression.)
Shasta asks the question: Can’t we all just get along?
The entire point of my tiredness is this: WE, the citizens of this country, are not the enemy. When did we let ourselves be convinced to turn on each other, to be each others’ victims and rivals? We’re spending so much time these days hating some other guy (myself included, apparently, considering my response to the aforementioned blog post) that we’ve lost sight of the fact that our country is only as great as we make it.
We own this place. Those people in Washington are there as our representatives. I live in Texas and I’m not a Republican. My congressional representatives rarely represent my views. That doesn’t mean I throw up my hands and cry uncle. I don’t want to go out and shoot up a school, either, but I do bitch and moan a lot because I earned the right to do so when I voted. I continue to make my views known to my Senators, even though I rarely agree with their votes, because that’s the way it works. I have to trust in that. If I didn’t, I would try to change it.
As for taxes, of course there are problems. Teaching in a low income neighborhood for 20 years illuminated a lot of welfare abuse. I saw it firsthand. But here’s the deal: those poor families and their children who need assistance aren’t going anywhere. They aren’t going to magically disappear and suddenly leave more money in your pocket. Isn’t it better to try and help their children, and at least offer them a good education as a way out of poverty? If we can’t see the benefits of having good public schools, as a way of preserving our country’s future, without resulting to privatization and making a profit off our kids’ education, then there’s no hope for us. None. Hopefully those tax dollars will come back to us in the form of intelligent, responsible citizens. They won’t all be lost. I’m willing to help my neighbor with that, and I’m willing to see the bigger picture and think of the ramifications for the future, not just my own small, short life.
Poor people are not the enemy. A larger share of our tax dollars go to mega corporations in the form of tax breaks, grants, and incentives. These corporations then use our tax dollars to develop new products, which then leads to jobs being outsourced overseas to people who will work for pennies a day. Then these same companies turn around, pay the guys at the top six and seven figure salaries, and the corporation pays little to no taxes. Isn’t this just another form of welfare? Socialism? Capitalism? I’m not seeing many benefits to our country by continuing down this path. I’m not anti-business. I would love to run my own small company. But if you’re going to use my tax dollars, I’d like you to at least contribute something back to society.
We have plenty of money in this country, it’s just in all the wrong places. But, really, rich people aren’t the enemy either. We all know that. Let’s work on putting our money where it can be put to good use.
Maybe we should all turn off CNN and Fox News and start thinking for ourselves. Look around. Talk to those neighbors you resent so much. Bandy together and see what you can do to change the things you don’t like. Accept that there will be differences in your beliefs. Those differences are what make life interesting. Assume that most people are smart enough, and have enough common sense, to be able to make good decisions. Debate. Talk.
And, please, let’s get rid of all the catch-phrases and labels. Liberals, socialists, conservatives, entitlements, idiots, blah, blah, blah. I am not an idiot because I think something other than you. It’s not okay to belittle someone because they’re different. Please, be respectful.
Houston Marathon 2012
I didn’t support the decision to go to Iraq. I had a teenage son at the time and worried about all the sons and daughters being sent off to die for something I wasn’t convinced was right. It hurt when others felt my nonsupport was unpatriotic and treasonous, as if the simple acts of questioning war and fearing for the safety of our troops made me less of a patriot. Now I shake my own head in disbelief at those who talk of secession. Is that a more honorable solution, to walk away rather than work towards a better future? I’m very confused by this.
It’s all much more complicated than I’ve stated. There are no easy answers. I would lose any debate on this issue, I’m sure, and get way too emotional for my own good. I’m just someone who is tired of the way we all seem to hate each other these days. I see it when I drive my car, when I buy groceries, when someone steals my lawn mower and my grill, and when people talk about others they don’t even know. I honestly think our differences are smaller than we imagine. We seem to have lost sight of the ability to “walk a mile in someone’s else’s shoes.” Compassion is not only reserved for those who believe as you do.
I sometimes feel as if we’re treating each other as opposing sides at a football game, with our future, the football, being thrown around so haphazardly. Us against them. Maybe we could take a lesson from my running group, all of us so very different, but all running — together — towards the same finish line. I think we owe it to each other, to our children’s futures, and to the future of this country that we all love.
We have a lot to lose if we don’t.