Longest title ever, and apt to be a fairly long post, lest I’m careful. Did I lose you already?
Stick with me on this one please - it’s gonna be a good one. (I hope so anyway…) I’ve been chewing on this topic for months, both in internal and external conversations. The title finally came to me the other day when I was meeting with someone for the first time - we’d crossed into religion and politics within our first 20 minutes of being acquainted, and we weren’t even sorry about it. Another 50 minutes of wonderful conversation followed, fueled at least in part by our noted differences in the areas of religion and politics. We found joy in our differences, and pleasure in learning from one another about the why of our held opinions.
But from what I read in the newsfeed and hear about on podcasts and what fuels my clickbait browsing habits - this is abnormal behavior. It’s almost becoming politically incorrect to hear a differing opinion and then to continue in conversation with that person!
April Showers do bring May flowers - can we all agree on this one? I find it’s good to start with common ground when you’re talking with a diverse audience.
How about the next line - the Mayflower brought Freethinkers? Freethought is generally defined as a philosophical viewpoint which holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, revelation, or dogma. It can be especially applied to one whose religious opinions differ from established belief. Some imply that freethinkers hold to a rejection of any religious belief but I deny this as “fake news”, which I’ll expound upon below.
So, the Pilgrims and Puritans, remember them? Befriended the Native Americans on Thanksgiving and all that? It was a whole bunch of them that came across the pond from England. Remember why? If you said religious freedom - you’re right! It’s a lot more complicated than we’ll get into here, but my short-form is that in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, England was lurching back and forth from forced membership in the new Church of England and forced membership in the Holy Catholic Church. Meet the new boss, just like the old boss - but different. And the Puritans, being the freethinkers that they were, were like “Isn’t God supposed to be our boss?”
So, the Puritans, seeking religious freedom, ventured to the New World. Many others followed, with the principles of religious freedom and personal liberty leading them to the various colonies. These freethinkers had the gaul to declare that individual rights are installed by God, not bestowed by the state! And that there should be separation of Church and State (to prevent forced membership which they had escaped). Eventually, the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War, Constitution, and the Bill of Rights came to unify these united states into these United States of America. United in Liberty, and in the noble pursuit of the American Dream.
And an American Dream it became - an economic story like the world had never seen before. In 200 years, America grew from an idea into a global powerhouse - with the public airing of views and market testing of ideas leading the way. America was the deciding force for the west in the war against Fascism in World War II, and later The Cold War with communism helped to prove that our capitalistic, freethinking, and entrepreneur-driven economic model was able to outperform any planned economy. Industrious people from around the world continued to immigrate to our nation, and further developed the flavor in our melting pot.
And then, about 20 years ago, the internet and social media burst onto the scene. The internet brought about a rapid decline of newspapers - which generally carried balanced views - and was offset by the rise of social media as a news source. The fancy algorithms used by Facebook and the choosing of who to friend and follow on Twitter ensured that we didn’t have to face those pesky opposing viewpoints anymore. Political correctness grew rapidly as an opposing force to freethinking, and people slid, largely unknowingly, into echo chambers - where the only news they consume is that which reinforces their already-held beliefs.
And now, Donald Trump is our President - I would argue largely as a backlash against the rise of political correctness. The wearing of a MAGA hat is highly controversial - and may get you thrown out of your favorite restaurant, or limit your career at a technology company. It’s no better being a “blue” person in a “red” environment. Our political dialogue has become toxic, and some are calling it the beginning of a Cold Civil War.
This is a great shame, and a harbinger of great economic peril. If our businesses can’t be places where individuals of many backgrounds and perspectives can work together to solve problems, and our stores can’t be places where anyone can purchase products and services to fit their needs - it’s like putting sand in the gearbox of this great economic machine we call America.
Remember my lead-in example, where I became warmly acquainted with someone who shared neither my political nor religious views? We made our acquaintance as fellow supporters and advocates for The Matthews House - a non-profit organization in Fort Collins which serves the youth and families in Larimer County. TMH envisions and helps to empower a sustainable future for all, with opportunity for personal growth and love and joy in their lives, regardless of the circumstances of their past. Our shared support of TMH was a binding force, and opened us to listening to the other party’s perspective on other topics.
And so that’s my call to action. Help keep America great by identifying yourselves as Americans first! Be open to other perspectives - intentionally seek out viewpoints you may disagree with. Listen to understand, not to respond or rebuke. There are bad ideas being expressed in our nation, but we won’t defeat those ideas by shutting down free speech and de-platforming. Bad ideas can only be defeated by the airing of better ideas. That’s how we’re supposed to do it in America - voices are heard, ideas are tested, and hopefully the best of those ideas become policy. Let us once again recognize that our diversity is our strength - in our schools, workplaces, and among our states. Those freethinking Founding Fathers designed it that way, with a small Federal government of limited power. Our Constitution largely says to the states - “you do you!”, and I say the same to you on an individual basis. Be kind to one another, and get out of your echo chamber once in a while (or permanently). Thanks for reading, and please feel welcome to share your better ideas in our comments.