I believe that the biggest problem facing us…“us” being the American people…is that we’ve allowed ourselves to become so divided. There is a relentless focus on our differences, some of which are significant, and I see almost no attempt to find areas of commonality. I believe we’ll never make any progress in finding meaningful solutions to the many issues we face as a nation if we allow this to continue. I also believe that the only way to change this is to engage in a dialogue with one another. You remember a dialogue?? You take turns…one of you talks, the other one shuts up and listens. Then you switch…the first person shuts up and listens, the second one gets to talk. I want to be clear that I’m not talking about promoting a dialogue between political parties. Politicians are only interested in getting elected over and over so they can feast at the trough of power and money. That’s probably not fair. I’m sure there are some politicians in this country who are in it for noble reasons. My apologies to both of you.
Over the past several years, I’ve traveled fairly extensively. During that time, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a lot of people whose political views span the ideological spectrum from very conservative to very liberal. Guess what. When you get past all that political rubbish and start talking about what these people really think is important, you hear very similar themes. For most people I’ve run into, their family and friends are the most important things in the world. They would like to have a job and make a decent wage. They don’t mind some people being rich but they would like for all of us to get to play by the same rules. They want their children and grandchildren to have a better world and brighter future. They are concerned about people who are less fortunate than themselves and especially, they are concerned about what the future holds for the children of those people. Most of these folks I listen to are pretty level-headed and intelligent. How they would approach dealing with these aforementioned issues can vary significantly. Maybe it would be worth having a discussion to see what might come out of it.
What are the barriers we’ve allowed to be erected between us that prevent our having these discussions? I see myths and misconceptions. Maybe “myth-conceptions”? I think I may have developed a new word…or else I’ve developed a lisp. Sorry, I digress. Many of my conservative friends dismiss anyone who doesn’t agree with them as “Liberals.” Really? If someone takes a different view than yours, you just put them in a box and dismiss everything they believe. Worse yet, you assume that you know everything they believe because they are a “Liberal.” Pretty close-minded but it lets you off the hook for having to think.
The husband of a friend of mine…they both refer to themselves as “progressives,” thus avoiding the now-stigmatized “L” word…told me a while back that he had “figured out what’s wrong with conservatives.” I didn’t really want to know what he thought but he told me anyway. He said, “They’re all greedy.” Then he smugly sat back in his chair. I really couldn’t tolerate this so I broke from my usual procedure of ignoring this kind of inanity. I told him that I had a friend whose political beliefs were somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. Nonetheless, this gentleman was one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. He makes monumental contributions to the music scene in his town and he also helps many less-fortunate people out in his community, both with direct financial assistance as well as opportunities for advancement. I told him that this man probably contributed more real and direct aid to people than any ten of his “progressive” friends. He shut up for a minute or two. Thank goodness.
My friend, Sheriff Jim Wilson used to say, “I wouldn’t vote for Ann Richards for governor of Texas but I’d love to have her as a neighbor.” As a died-in-the-wool conservative, he didn’t agree with many of her political positions but he recognized that she was a very special person who would be worth having as a friend. Where did we ever get the idea that we should all think the same way, be it conservative or liberal? How could any new ideas ever come about if we all believe the same way?
I have started singing the song, “This Land is Your Land,” at almost all of my performances in 2014. I know, for some of you conservatives out there, Woody Guthrie was a low-down communist. I don’t sing those verses. I sing the ones that focus on how we all have a stake in this country and how we all should have a say about what happens here. I want to remind people that if we talk with and listen to each other, we might come away with a different understanding. We also might just like each other more.
I realize that it’s pretty cheesy for me to get up in front of a minuscule percentage of the U.S. population, sing “This Land is Your Land,” and expect anything to change. I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway. I really do believe this land belongs to all of us. We are an immense and diverse country…we always have been. If we’re going to make it work, we have to find our common ground. It’s there, we just have to be willing to look for it.