When I was a young man, I worked as a carpenter.
On a very memorable job, we were working on an elementary school that caught on fire. We had to work as fast as we possibly could because we needed to reopen the school before summer. We had to gut everything.
We spent the first few days tearing everything down and filling up huge 30-yard dumpsters. During one of my trips to the dumpster, I remember heaving a bunch of drywall over the edge, and something caught my eye.
It was an American Flag. A big, once proud, beautiful flag was sprawled out in the dumpster alongside all the garbage that was to be removed and never seen again.
It was one of those big flags that hung on the flagpole and flows triumphantly in the wind.
It made me sad. It didn’t feel right. I put the flag in my Jeep, brought it home and washed it over and over again until the smell of soot and smolder had been removed.
That flag has traveled across the country with me and currently it hangs on the wall in my office. Here’s a picture of it.
Today I put my feet up on my desk and looked up at the flag. I felt embarrassed. I felt disgusted and I felt sorry for it, as if it had a name and a personality. There he was, trying his best to be strong and proud in spite of all the bullshit he puts up with.
What have we become?
The Trouble With Tribes
It’s a simple concept, you’re either with us or against us. You’re either with the good guys or the bad guys.
At this moment, I don’t want to be on anyone’s team. Everyone is screaming so loud to be heard. Everyone is trying to stand tall by knocking everyone else down. Everyone has their heels dug in and is ready to “fight” for what they believe in. The push the record button and they battle in the danger zone of public attention.
I’m reminded of my niece when she was a baby. When she wanted attention, she screamed.
I was inspired to write this post just now after watching a gross video on Facebook. The video was of that blonde chick who loves to put on makeup and scream into the camera. She was defending Trump and seemed quite offended that people were angry at Trump for pussy grabbing. So in response, some dude with a beard put on a jacket that a boy scout leader would wear and edited his responses directly after her video bits.
It’s bearded man vs angry blonde. It’s the good guy vs the bad guy.
Unless of course, you’re on the other team. In that case, it’s the realistic girl with family values going against a delusional hippie.
So they bicker back and forth and people leave comments and then more people leave replies to other people’s comments and then other people cheer them on and meanwhile the impression count rises and both the angry blonde and the delusional hippie feel good about their standing in this virtual game of tug of war. I wonder who’s winning.
We’ve created this tribal mentality. We’ve created this world where it is treasonous to be seen with the other side. Where even the simple act of listening to someone else’s viewpoints gets you kicked out of the club. Fuck both of your clubs.
There is a universal truth that is difficult for some people to truly comprehend. We want to make up reasons why this truth is irrelevant, but truth always has a way of showing itself.
The truth is… you will never, ever, truly understand what it is like to be someone else. You are you. You will always be you. You will always see the world from your narrow perspective and your perception of the world is simply the lens in which you see it.
Why is it so arrogant to think that maybe, just maybe I could learn something from someone who shares different views than mine? What do we actually think we are accomplishing by being loyal to our team? I’m ashamed and I’m frightened.
The Story of Seneca Nebraska
It is a very small town. One of those towns in which everyone knows each other.
The year was 2014. As the story goes, there were some newcomers in the town. These newcomers brought animals, most notably horses and put them in the yard. These horses were clearly neglected. There were chickens that ran free, dogs that barked and an odor that filled the town in all directions.
The local board was put under pressure to do something and long story short, they passed an ordinance that made it illegal to own animals.
This created a town-wide argument. The tribes were aligned, the lines were drawn and war was waged. Eventually, a petition went around that voted to unincorporate the town. Because of the fighting, these people became so fed up with each other that they actually voted to remove themselves from the world.
The town of Seneca, Nebraska is no longer a town. The sheriffs came in and took all the government equipment, they removed the town from the map. It only exists because of the people who are too stubborn to move.
The two sides argued themselves into an abyss. This really happened. This is really happening to us.
We Should Honestly Be Embarrassed With Ourselves
I’m in no position to claim the moral high ground. Making fun of Trump and Hilary is just so damn easy that it can be so delicious to take the bait. To throw my shots into the wind and hope that it hits someone inferior to myself.
How fucking ridiculous is this? How ridiculous are we? We are being laughed at. We are laughing at ourselves because we don’t know what else to do.
Who will save us from ourselves?
Well… no one will. It’s up to us.
There are more millennials than there are baby boomers. We are essentially creating the world that will design the future. We are creating a new digital revolution and it is scary.
I’ve been critical of my generation. We are soft. We fear pain. Our bodies are frail, our minds are weak and our willingness is lacking. With that said, I have often argued that my generation has the capacity to be the greatest generation the world has ever known. We can save the climate, we can build a reserve of resources and we can mend the tribes.
What are we going to do?
We Can Save Ourselves With the Platinum Rule
We all know the golden rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated. I’ve often contemplated that rule. I believe in it, I believe that how we treat each other is a direct representation of how we feel about ourselves. But I would argue that it goes one step further.
In treating each other how we would want to be treated ourselves, we are still identifying ourselves as separate from each other. There is you, and there is me. We are still disillusioned to the fact that we are all the same thing. We all come from the same place. We are all much more alike than we are different.
We are all star stuff, living together on this pale blue dot.
The climax of human arrogance is to think that our view of the world is better than anyone else’s. Most people, regardless of political views or values or what they think about abortion, are simply just trying to do the best they can the best way they know how.
Believe it or not, everyone has something to teach you.
So if we would just listen, if we would try for one second to see the world through the lens of another person, maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to pick sides. Maybe we would see that these tribes we create are simply a by-product of fear.
Maybe we would see that a quiet conversation is more powerful than yelling into a megaphone.
I’m Keeping My Flag…
I’m doing so with the belief that when my generation is running the world, we will be doing so with these moments clear in our minds.
I hope that we can look back at these days with equal parts of gratitude and disgust and confidently sit down with each other.
When the history books write about this comedy act of American History, I hope that we will proudly claim that we spoke to each other and we listened to each other and we loved each other.
Originally published at https://www.timstodz.com on October 13, 2016.