Halloween is the day of the year you can dress in a crazy outfit.
Christmas is the day of the year you can spend like a crazy drunken sailor.
Thanksgiving is the day of the year when you can share completely crazy ideas with family and friends around a table. Or at least that’s how it used to be.
I look back at Thanksgivings of years past, with some level of ignominy, and see myself as a combination of LTC Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman and Lord Henry Wotton from The Picture of Dorian Gray.
I spewed crazy views that were a mixture of arrogance, insecurity and alcohol. I also listened to crazy views from everyone else at the table on their third helping of stuffing. We argued. Things got heated from time to time. There may have been a few F-bombs thrown around. But nobody ever left the table, except to open another bottle of wine, use the bathroom or quickly check the score of the Cowboys game.
Nobody “unfriended” anyone. Nobody said, “You voted for who? I simply cannot have you in my life.” Nobody went on their phone and tweeted “You are an asshole” at the other person from an anonymous account.
I still to this day hear how we have “never been more polarized than right now.” As Uncle Joe would say: “That is a bunch of malarkey.” As the President would say: “That is bullshit.”
In the Pre-Civil War era, Senators didn’t filibuster for hours or recite “Green Eggs & Ham.” They often fought physically and on special occasions settled arguments with a duel. That’s right: The kind of duel with pistols at dawn. Representatives died. Today people bang gavels and yell point of order. They are not carrying a sidearm of a scabbard into the halls of Congress.
From 1861-1865 we had a Civil War. 1 million casualties. Enough said.
So I submit to you that we are NOT more polarized now!
But what has changed is that we do not listen to each other anymore.
We do not ask: “Why do you think that?”
We do not inquire: “How come you voted for them?”
Instead, we take the easy road. We wall ourselves off from any opposing viewpoints, furthering the feedback loop of being “right.” This makes no sense for two reasons.
First, what is the harm in asking why someone thinks the way they do? You may still feel they are a jerk afterwards, but perhaps you can understand their completely rational reasons for their viewpoints. Imagine if we realized that, although we disagree with someone, they have the same good intentions. Imagine if we learned something that changed our opinion?
Second, if we believe so strongly in our views, is cutting people out of our lives the way to get our point across? We should want to engage everyone on the other side of the issue to get them to hear our beliefs.
The solution is to depart our comfort zone. If all you watch is CNN, then watch FoxNews for one week. If all you watch is FoxNews, then watch CNN for a week. That is my challenge! If after that week you never want to watch Fox or CNN again, so be it. But I bet you will start to understand where a lot of the views you hear come from and, while you may disagree, it is that understanding and mutual respect which allows us to stay in relationships.
Connections to others are what make us distinctly human. I value and treasure each one I have, even with the people I disagree with on everything. This is because we are all flesh and blood. That connection, that person who opposes my views on some social issue, may save my life one day, literally or figuratively.
If a friend of mine asks for help, I don’t ask first if they watch Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow and then make my decision to help based on that answer.
My message is simple this Thanksgiving: Debate. Opine. Listen. Argue. Ask Why. Ask How Come. Question your assumptions. But keep your connections to others. Stay tethered to friends even if they disagree with you.
If you feel you are about to “unfriend” someone, sleep on it. Maybe there will be a time in life when you are there for each other and that friendship will transcend ones views on the state of the world.