The thought struck me this morning as I was working out at the gym while scanning another morning of angry headlines on the news.
This country is at war.
We are at war with China. We are at war with Iran. We are at war with our allies. With our neighbors. With migrants.
But the worst part is, we are at war with ourselves. It’s an all-out civil war out there on the streets of America.
Left versus right.
Liberals versus conservatives.
Elites versus the common people.
Trump supporters versus the anti-Trump camp.
One nation, divisible, with labels and insults for all.
A billboard in Texas proclaims that liberals are not welcome and should continue driving.
A restaurant in Virginia refuses to seat the press secretary because she’s doing her job of speaking for the president.
Facebook and Twitter are shouting grounds for people to toss names at each other like twelve-year-old kids in a schoolyard.
Is anyone else tired of all this nonsense and incivility?
All of these labels that we are throwing around at each other – what do they mean?
Nothing. They’re just words. They’re stereotypes, and no one person can ever be summed up by a stereotype. We’re all unique. We’re all different.
Yet, what emotional power these labels have to divide and inflame. It’s so much easier to slap a label on someone than to try to understand where they’re coming from.
Tossing labels at people isn’t just lazy and uncivil. It’s dumb. It’s literally dumb, because when we rely on labels and stereotypes, we are not thinking. We are not using our critical faculties. We are not using intelligent discourse as a means of addressing issues and solving problems.
We are using words we really don’t understand, and we are using them as missiles.
The other day, while seeing what my friends were up to on Facebook, I came across an ugly meme that stated that if you are anti-Trump, you must be either a liberal, an elite, an illegal, a criminal, or living off the government.
I was floored. I don’t support Trump, but I’m none of those things. I work hard for a living. I pay taxes (lots of them). I believe in self-reliance and self-sufficiency. I am a fiscal conservative Republican who believes in minimal government.
I was also taught by my parents not to judge, not to toss insults at people, to practice kindness and understanding, to listen to people and walk in their shoes and try to understand where they’re coming from.
For that, I am labeled a liberal and elite. It’s astounding. And it’s stupid.
It doesn’t help, of course, that our own president sows the seeds of this divisiveness with his talk and tweets. That is not, in my mind, what true leaders do.
But as citizens, as individuals, we are not helpless. We have a choice whether to toss gas on the fire of divisiveness or to try to put it out.
We can choose a different direction for ourselves. We can try to find common ground with others. Because as Americans, as humans, we have a lot more in common than what divides us.
It was Lincoln, in the middle of our great Civil War, who spoke these words:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
We are not enemies. We are one country, bound together by a common heritage and purpose. We can solve the issues of our day, just like we solved thorny issues in the past.
To get there, we need to start appealing to the better angels of our nature, not the lizard part of our brains that knows only how to lash out its tongue when threatened.
So by all means, please protest. Debate. Engage. Argue if need be.
But could we just stop the name calling? It’s just making things so much worse for everyone and for our country.
This great nation is better – so much better – than this.