I was at a book event last night in downtown Newnan. It was Forward Friday we were set up to promote the Local Author Book Nook at The Corner Arts Gallery and Studio. I was standing at the booth, visiting with a woman, having a conversation about books and literature and how nice the weather still was. We are blessed to live in Georgia.
She recieved a phone call and I stepped away to give her privacy but could tell that whatever was happening on the other end of that call was causing her some distress. I did not involve myself but when she finished her call she stepped back up to the booth, a changed woman. She was angry, upset, I could see that she felt that she could cry.
"Is everything okay?" I asked and she looked at me for the beat of a second before breathing a heavy sigh.
"That was my daughter. Her two best friends just facetimed her to tell her that since she doesn't support the person they want for president they can't be her friends. They told her she homophobe and a racist."
How old is your daughter?" I asked. It's become an all to common theme over the last four years to be "cancelled" based on your political beliefs. The lady looked me in the eye and said, she's twelve.
I was shocked. A twelve year old has no say in a presidential election. I had expected that he daughter would be in college, after all, she was my age. "I'm so sorry. As if middle school isn't hard enough."
"The crazy thing is, my sister is gay. and we're a mixed race family." She smiled like she would have laughed if it hadn't broke her heart so much for her daughter. "We judge people by the content of their character and are glad they have independent minds. That's what makes this country great."
I felt a connection with this woman, more than a friendly encounter at a festival. My family lives by that same creed offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., "Judge not by the color of their skin but by the content of character." We have expanded it in our home to include not judging for appearance of any kind, disability, religious belief, sexual orientation, or political leaning. By far political leaning, for me, is the hardest to achieve and I struggle sometimes because what seems so illogical to me, seems perfectly logicial to other people. I am confident the those who believe differently from me think the same about my logic.
One of my best friends stands on the other side of the politcal divide. We have incredible conversations and I admit that I get more worked up than she does. She has the amazing ability to stay calm and impassioned when my emotions get involved. She allows the analytic part of her mind to stay seperate from her emotions. I'm working on that, but I'm not as evolved as she. She knows that I pay attention to politics, even though I am not a great political activist. Politics for me is a connection point between me and my dad, who I lost in 2009. He had strong opinions and leanings and I have carried some of what I learned from him into my adulthood and added some ideological stances of my own. I think of myself mostly as a hybrid. I want less government involvement in my daily life. I want people to feel safe to live their lives without fear of harrassment or ostracism. I believe people should be allowed to love who they love without persecution. I believe the money spent on drug enforcement would be better spent on recovery. I believe people should be allowed to think independently and not to told to shut up and get in line. I believe in laws because without them we do not have functioning society. I believe the twenty-four hours news cycle and the advent of a politically motivated social media are the most destructive forces on the planet. I long for unimpassioned news reporting that provides facts without opinions. I do not believe any of our political parties serve my beliefs completely.
What are we teaching our children if a twelve-old will discontinue a five year "bestie" friendship over an election that she is not even old enough to vote in, let alone understand all the nuances of the battle at hand? Does she not value her friend's ability to think, does she not enjoy the workings of Kayley's free and independent mind? Does she think the world will be a better place if everybody would just stop thinking for themselves and let the media, or social media, tell us what we need to believe? They are certainly trying. Does she believe that bullying somebody into agreeing with her is the way to success? What should this mother do? Should she reach out to her daughter's friend's parents and let them know about the situation at hand. Should she block the bullying friend's number so her daughter will not be a target again? Should she encourage her daughter to toe the line to salvage the friendship?These were bigger questions than I had answers for. We talked for several minutes more before we exchanged emails and promised to stay in touch.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, we are a divided nation. If we continue down this path of demonizing those who do not toe our line I am fearful of the consequences. We have to remember how to talk to one another. We have to remember that we all want to protect our families and we all have beliefs that we feel passionate about. The art of civility has been lost in America. We all struggle when our emotions take over the power of our brains. We feel so strongly that we are unable to have a productive dialogue with somebody who thinks differently. Kindness matters. Civility matters. Open dialogues matter. Name calling, bullying, insulting, intimidating, and cancelling otheres is countrerproductive.
I don't know the answer. I'm going to continue to believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest leaders in history. I'm going to continue to not call people names for disagreeing with me. I'm going to try not to let the chaos overwhelm me. I'm going to continue to try to see through all the manipulations of the media and social media. I'm going to continue to work and try to take care of my family. Just like everybody else.
I'm gong to continue trying to teach my children to be kind and civil.