I had lunch recently with a woman I had not seen in several years. Since her divorce, she has begun dating. It sounds like it is mainly much younger men. She says she goes out a lot. Meets men in bars.
All I could think of was: “It’s not me. It’s you.”
Not in a pejorative way. In a way that admits I lived the exciting city life in my twenties. I went out plenty. Met plenty of eligible men. Had my share of happy hours and late nights and adventures to amuse me when I am old and need to reminisce by the fire.
She is choosing that lifestyle now—perhaps because she didn’t get to have it before she married.
But that’s her. The contrast between our lifestyles become clearly apparent to me in short order.
And even though I am trying to age gracefully (I hope!) in a far different manner—I try not to judge the difference. She went through a rough marriage. She is happy in her new life. And she wants that to last. In that, we are quite similar.
Until I heard her recount a few tales of recent conquests, however, I had not realized with such clarity who I have become. What I now value. How different that probably is from so many other single women out there.
In the contrast between us, I was shown more clearly who I was. And who she was. And yet, our searching for lasting happiness unites us despite the many differences in the way we go about it.
For a country founded on contrast, we sure do struggle with it. Our founding fathers came here from England to escape what they perceived as persecution. They decided to form a country that was originally of like-minded individuals. As time went on, our core tenets of liberty and freedom for all extended more and more beyond our borders. Of course people from other countries—particularly those with less than ideal circumstances—wanted to come to the land of opportunity. The land that proclaimed all people were created equal.
Very few of us hail from Mayflower stock. Most of us spawned from people who came to the United States from countries considered very “foreign,” people in search of something better. Many of our ancestors were not welcome when they first arrived. Many changed their names to fit in and avoid prejudice.
We are a melting pot. By its very nature, a melting pot harbors contrast. It is what keeps the final product from becoming bland and tasteless. We merge and fuse, bumping up against one another in sometimes uncomfortable combinations. But the end result is supposed to be something palatable. Maybe not to all, but to the majority.
I watch the to-and-fro between Facebook friends who support the executive orders happening in the U.S. right now and those who don’t. I wish I could take the easy way out here. I want to say all those who support them are ignorant and uneducated. Because if I could say that, I could support my own bias and be embraced by the Left—which tends to be where I lean heavily on social issues.
My challenge is—I have intelligent friends on both sides of the aisle. I’m sick to death of hearing the arguments on both sides, even though I know they are necessary right now.
But if we’re going to argue, let’s not just yell things at each other and trade facts (and alternate facts—oh, I could not resist). A very wise professor once explained the fine art of consensus to me in a Leadership course. Despite grad school now happening two decades ago, it still rings true. When people are at an impasse, you either move up to an agreed upon vision or down to agreed upon criteria. And you work from there to build something palatable—not perfect—to the majority on all sides. You start with the areas—even if minute—where agreement resides.
For instance, I think all sides of the refugee debate would agree Americans want to feel safe. We just disagree on how to go about that. One side supports what I see as a fear-based decision. We will simply close our borders to those from “dangerous” countries. The irony is that the United States is probably one of the most dangerous countries on earth now—and it’s not because of terrorism. I do not go about my daily routine worrying about terrorists. But I do avoid many neighborhoods in Chicago because I know my chances of being carjacked, raped or shot go up at least 200 percent. Closing borders does not protect us from those who truly want to harm us. Radicals exist in all nationalities and colors. What will we do when the first Al Qaeda French operative succeeds in attacking us? Or Swede? Or Aussie? Surely we cannot continue to rope ourselves off from all corners of the world.
The other side of the equation believes we can achieve safety through maintaining an open and free society while trusting in the current refugee vetting process and ourselves. I’ll admit my bias. I like this approach. We are not the naïve society we were before 9/11. I think most of us keep an eye out for unattended packages or suspicious activity. I think we have some very smart national security people all over this country who feel it is their life’s work to keep us safe. And we cannot punish thousands for the hatred a few might bring.
At issue is that we all have different radar based on our own biased upbringing, so our vigilance is not always on target. For instance–the female student who called police in Evanston, Illinois saying that she did not want to racially profile but she thought she saw an African American man driving a stolen car. Police stopped him and—instead of calmly questioning him—went overboard, wrestling him to the ground because they said he didn’t respond quickly enough to a request. This particular man was a fellow Northwestern University student with nothing to hide. And is now suing the police department.
Many of my friends who support Trump’s decisions are those who live in areas where they do not meet or interact with Middle Eastern and Muslim people. They have lived in a white suburban bubble for so long that they buy into the fear from afar. I live in a town with more churches per capita than any other city in the nation. For the uninitiated, that means refugees. Most from Africa and the Middle East. When my eldest went to public school, he saw kids who did not yet realize shoes were necessary. (If you want a peek into refugee life, Mawi Asgedon–a former local who came here as a refugee–has written a wonderful book on his own life that I’ve read with my kids–“Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy’s Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard.“) I’ve worked with third grade refugees who are only several days here in the U.S. We sat in the school hallways while I tried to bring them up to speed in certain subjects. I saw the intelligence in their big, beautiful eyes but the language barrier sometimes came between us. These poor kids had to sit in the kindergarten class for hours, trying to learn English in its most basic form. Seeing their mothers and grandmothers walk down a busy street with a basket or jug on their heads, perfectly balanced, is not rare for me. I wish my sheltered friends could share these experiences.
I also wish I could bring the fearful to my younger son’s school, where children come from all backgrounds. A few months ago, I posted this on Facebook: “My son went to his friend’s Bar Mitzvah last weekend. His first:). Almost every single child in my son’s seventh grade class showed up for the sweet boy. A Catholic, a Buddhist, an atheist, a Muslim and a Hindu sat next to each other at a Jewish ceremony. And none of them thought beyond the fact that they were there to celebrate their friend and enjoy each other :-). There is hope for this world. I see it in the faces and actions of these kids. Don’t tell me the world is falling apart. I see differently.”
My sons go to school with children with what many of my conservative college peers would consider “odd” or “scary-sounding” names. Names that roll off of his tongue. He does not stumble over “Nishant” or “Zahrah” any more than he stumbles over “Joshua” or “Heather.” They’re just names to him. Just people not that different from himself.
I talk to people from all over the world, at work and at play. Perhaps about what one parent is teaching to teens at his local mosque. I chat with another parent about the Indian heritage festival she has organized. To another about what her Bible church has planned for its next mission trip. And to yet another about how even though she is an atheist, her son is struggling to figure out his own spiritual beliefs.
I guess my choice could be to limit my circle of friends. That certainly would make life easier. But far less rich in the end. I will continue to choose friends based on their basic humanity rather than the myriad other things people let get in the way.
Too many of us get stuck in the contrast. “It’s not me. It’s you.”
Yes, indeed. There’s plenty of that for each of us to digest. Plenty of differences.
But underneath that contrast is one basic similarity: our humanity.
When we finally get to that enlightened stage, then it’s not me. It’s not you. It’s us.
What I’m wishing for right now is godspeed on that one.