Each year as I write out my holiday cards, I am warmed by the fascinating array of friends that I have—people who have entered my life from assorted places and for assorted reasons. They come in different sizes, shapes and ages. And they are similarly scattered across the spectrum of personal interests and political values. I treasure my “sister” who lived next door to me when we were babies…friends from high school and college…assorted 80-somethings I have become friendly with through my business career…and the 20-somethings I have connected with through my children. My relationship with each varies depending on what we share—dinner, phone conversations, hiking, skiing, movies. It is a fabulous quilt of relationships and activities. I love that I can connect with such a variety of people at different times and in different ways.
I get so much joy from this variety that I truly cannot understand the polarization of ideals we all are suffering through in the media and at our dinner tables. Oddly, this intolerance of opposing ideas is rampant in the face of unceasing demands for acceptance of individual choices and preferences. Isn’t that a tad ironic? That we are tolerant only of those who think just like we do?
America was founded by a hodgepodge of different people, experiences, styles and opinions. Thank goodness! That’s what makes us strong and great. The Spaniards got here first (after the Native Americans, of course)…followed by the English, many of whom were escaping religious persecution. And then later, immigrants (including my grandfather) from all corners of the world entered the US through Ellis Island, bringing with them unique skills and experiences. Our Founding Fathers included far-ranging personalities and philosophies—the stalwart George Washington…the flamboyant Thomas Jefferson…puritanical John Adams…and the hard-driving boy from the “wrong side of the tracks,” Alexander Hamilton. These divergent people saw value in overcoming differences to support one another toward a common goal.
Imagine what the world would be like if we did not have contrarian thought? Remember the movie Pleasantville, in which life exists in the safe, predictable land of black and white? Or the movie The Giver, based on the book by the same name, which shows the seemingly Utopian society without war, pain or suffering…but also no independent thought or emotion? In fact, homogeneous thought was ultimately the downfall in both of these fictionalized societies.
Where did the intolerance come from? Here’s my theory. Remember those overconcerned, overcaring, overinvolved parents who didn’t want their children to feel bad? They told their kids that they were the smartest, cutest, most talented ones ever. They gave everyone participation awards in order to make sure that their kids never discovered that they actually might be average. Well…all of that theoretical self-esteem building created a generation of people who honestly believe that the sun rises and sets around what they say and how they say it. Their parents told them they are soooooo smart, and now they believe it. Given their superior selves, why should they tolerate opinions contrary to their own? They never had to before.
We all know about millennials’ obsession with immediate gratification and their insatiable need for emotional support and validation. They are not alone. The baby-boomer generation is the original “me” generation, with its demand for attention and personal fulfillment. That’s thanks to their postwar parents, who wanted to create a safe space for their children after suffering through decades of war and poverty.
Now these people who are simply living what they were taught need a dose of reality. Just because Mom and Dad said that you’re the best doesn’t make it so. It takes hard work and humility to become the best…on your own and through your own efforts.
It also takes hard work and humility to realize that your thoughts and opinions are only your thoughts and opinions…and that, in the real world, your opinion is not the best, no matter what Mom and Dad said. Everyone has the same rights to their opinions and their space. Mind you, it’s not about creating laws for hierarchy and acceptance. Instead, we simply have to allow for the richness of choice and perspective. We have to care about those who are different from us and truly be open to learning from and respecting those differences. We can’t isolate ourselves in our corners, existing only with emotional and physical clones of ourselves.
If we want to move forward, we need to appreciate not just symmetrical solids or orderly stripes. We need to appreciate plaid—that messy, crisscross of colors and stripes…a hodgepodge that somehow becomes an interwoven pattern of strength. #BePlaid