As we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day last week, I was struck by the beauty that happens when we all take a break from being so staunchly in our respective corners and join each other hand in hand in the middle. Stars and stripes. Parades and fireworks. Sunshine and barbecues. For a moment, with all of our beautiful differences, we were one.
And then it was July 5.
More than ever, we are in love with being outraged. We argue about immigration, tariffs, guns, the economy, religion. If there is a side to be had, we will find it. We have become amazingly adept at drawing lines and determining who is in and who is out. We see it on the right and on the left. No one is immune.
Where is the middle?
Conversations about meaningful and important topics have become difficult because we go into them having already determined that we are right and that the other side is wrong. While we might ask, “Why do you think that?”, all too often we have stopped listening and are ready to pounce with our rebuttal before the question has left our lips.
Trust me, I know this is not easy. Especially when both sides feel like they have so very much at stake. But the real beauty is in the middle. In trying to understand why someone feels disenfranchised or left behind. In trying to understand why someone is adamant about their position on open borders or immigration reform.
We all come from a distinct point of view that is formed by our experiences, our environments, our tribe. And we can’t all be right, which also means, hilariously enough, that we can’t all be wrong. So how in the world do we move forward?
We all take one giant step toward the middle.
I think back to my school days and remember the dreaded group project. Oh my stars, I cannot stress how much I absolutely detested group projects. In this crazy exercise, we each had to do our part to succeed. Torture, sheer torture.
Inevitably, I would volunteer (ahem … demand) to take on much more than my share because I just knew if I trusted others that the project would go south and my grade would suffer. But let’s just call it what it was, I was terrified of losing control.
Some folks in my class loved having me as a partner; it meant less work for them. Others, I’m sure, were not so thrilled as we vied for control. But how much more would I have learned if we collectively shared our work and our ideas? How much more meaningful would those relationships have been with my classmates if I had taken a step toward the middle?
And if in the end we had gotten a B, or heaven forbid a C, instead of an A, what would I have really lost? Imagine if if in my compromise I had gained knowledge, friendship, and let go of some stress in the process. Success isn’t always an A. (And yes my overachiever self has had to work years to come to this place.)
I see our love of taking sides in a similar way. We all want control. We all want to be right. And when we think that’s in danger, we retreat to our corners mad as hornets. Here’s the deal, I know the problems facing our world and our country are not simple. Congress is in gridlock, we’re marching in the streets every month for some new injustice, and we have become professionals at being outraged.
But in the end, if we’re honest, outrage is easy. And quite frankly, exhausting. Action is so much harder. Listening is harder, yet. The first move is taking one step toward the middle. Having real conversations with your neighbors. Understanding the deep down why of their beliefs. Finding just one little thing you can agree on and then building from there. Maybe even find a joint cause and volunteer together. It’s amazing how you will see the heart of another when you are giving back shoulder to shoulder.
We are not all going to get what we want. It’s impossible. But together we can embrace a little of that Independence Day spirit every day, when we find our common ground and move forward, one step at a time.
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