Nearly 365 days ago 2017 started with a whole lot of people bristling in anger.
As the last hours of the year slip away the rage has not abated.
I’d like to think it is about politics. It’s not. It’s about our growing intolerance for people who don’t think like us, who don’t act like us, and who have different values than us. In a way it’s worse than people simply being intolerant of skin tone, ethnicity, or gender. Those broad strokes of bigotry as repulsive and unacceptable as they are seem not to be anchored as firmly in the rigid concrete of intolerance that reeks from one who has determined they are the one and only person that matters on earth.
And you can’t blame this one on Trump.
The venom that is spilling forth during street gatherings, on social media, and even in the halls of Congress is nothing new. It’s been amplified 40 times over, however, by our growing disconnection with people.
We might be able to text, talk, or blog with a complete stranger halfway around the globe as we have our nose buried in a smartphone without getting off of our couch, but are we really communicating let alone understanding the world? We find people who reaffirm who we believe we are in terms of values and viewpoints to such a degree that our intolerance spreads like a cancer ravaging our souls and hearts.
There was a time when supporters of Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater could not only be friends but could engage in civil conversation and work together finding common ground while compromising without betraying their core values.
Today cordial exchanges among those who disagree are as rare as a palm tree on the Arctic tundra. Discourse has gone from something akin to crooning to playing heavy metal thumper music turned all the way up in a Honda Civic shaking its way down Yosemite Avenue.
We can’t hear what anyone else is saying because we’re hell-bent on drowning them out.
Everybody is a victim. Everybody is wronged. Everybody demands something.
In a way it’s too bad we haven’t had a run of bad luck to deal with such as the Great Depression giving way to World War II. In the darkest hours of unspeakable cruelty, repugnant behavior and outright wholesale slaughtering of human life, humanity managed to have some of its finest moments of grace, compassion, understanding, and willingness to sacrifice for others, most of whom were complete strangers.
All is not lost. But if we carry on public discourse for much longer in its current state we will become tone deaf to the concept of humanity leaving us to the point we resort to sign language built exclusively around the middle finger.
It’s at times like this I think back to New Year’s Eve 1963. My parents we enjoying a rare night out and I was staying at my grandmother’s in a small house she built with her own hands after losing her ranch where she raised her 10 children during the Great Depression after her husband fell in love with the bottle and abandoned his family.
Grandmother was bundled in her chair next to the gas stove. We were playing Chinese checkers and solitaire that night.
She talked about good and evil as we played and how life wasn’t fair but that was no excuse to quit.
Grandmother Towle looked at me straight in the eye and warned me against ever being bitter.
“Don’t go around with a chip on your shoulder,” she told me. ‘And if you do to others what they have done to you then you are no better than they are.”
I admit as a 5-year-old the meaning went right over my head. But that evening she repeated those words numerous times as she talked and I chattered.
It wasn’t until years later when I learned grandmother was faced with raising 10 kids on her own on an isolated ranch in Nevada County at the height of the Great Depression that her words that New Year’s Eve became rather powerful. She lost the ranch through a land swindler aware the government wanted it for the planned Beale Air Corps base. That forced her to start all over again at age 60 working three jobs while building a new home to shelter herself and her three youngest kids who were still in school.
Grandmother Towle also would remind me to remember to “be sweet.”
I can’t help but wonder how much better we’d be as a nation if we didn’t carry that proverbial chip on our shoulder or when we had the urge to be angry to try and rein that emotion back in by being sweet.
My grandmother wasn’t perfect nor was she without fault. But she did know how to go through life without becoming bitter and resentful.
It’s something we need to keep in mind as we start another run through the calendar in the next few days.
Just think of how you can change the climate that really counts — how we interact with one another.
Be sweet. They are two words to try to live by.