Holding The Line On Respect

No matter the issue, the demographic, or the arena, it seems like too many of us have forgotten how to peacefully co-exist while we disagree.  It seems that there is far too much of the “My way or the highway” attitude in people today.  Why can we no longer respect each other’s right to feel differently, or simply disagree with an opinion.  Too many issues are polarizing a population of people that used to (and seemingly still does) have so much more in common than they have differences.  I’m finding less and less opportunities for a safe haven from divisive issues and conflict every day.  Let’s not forget that there is a traditional ground war going on in Ukraine the likes of which we haven’t seen in a generation.  Has the world gone mad?

            Whether at work or at home, talking on the phone or face to face, reading a text or an email, watching television or just scrolling social media, I cannot seem to find an hour where I’m not submerged in some form of conflict.  I remember being younger and the biggest arguments I had were about my favorite hockey team or who was going to win Superbowl.  And yes, at times those arguments became heated, but they never resulted in senseless violence, lost friendships, or dissociation from a family member.  But today’s teenagers are arguing over vaccine mandates and election protocols.  We are surrounded by extreme politics (and opinions) which has resulted in a population divide that seems too wide to ever narrow.  I have begun to find it difficult to have a simple conversation with some people who have been part of my life for years.  I just cannot take the toxicity and would prefer no interaction over a one-sided barrage. 

            Those of you who know me, would probably say I am very opinionated.  But those of you who really know me, would also say that I am always willing to listen to the other side of an argument.  Although I may not agree with your opinion, I always try to take the time to understand where it comes from.  That is the only way I can continue to grow.  Honestly have we forgotten that you don’t have to agree with someone to understand where they are coming from.  Disagreeing with someone and disrespecting them are two very different things, but today it seems like they go hand in hand.  As a shop steward and then as a Union Representative, I had to learn long ago that listening to the opinions of our members was the only way to be successful when I serviced.  That was even more important when there was a disagreement over something that happened in the shop.  I always tried to make sure that member knew I respected their right to feel differently than I did and tried to explain as calmly as I could why I didn’t agree with their opinion.  Of course, over the last 30+ years, some of those conversations ended up in heated exchanges and/or hurt feelings.  But I did everything I could to make sure that was a minority result.  If we were talking about my interactions with Employer attorneys over the years, then it would definitely be a majority result!    

Whether a conversation is based on political affiliation, election rules/results, vaccinations, mask mandates, foreign policy, gun rights, police, or immigration there seems to be less and less chance of it ending without some form of disrespect being shown if you don’t agree.  Are the days of finding some value in the other side of a conversation really gone?  What about all the ties that bind us?  Are they all forgotten or just irrelevant because we have different political views now?  I guess the reason I felt the need to write this article was because I keep hearing two expressions;  “strength in numbers” and “divide and conquer”.  If you think about it, they are both designed to do the same thing, win.  However, one tells you to stand together with others so that you have more influence over the outcome of a given situation.  The second teaches you to exploit the differences within a group and to encourage dissent to break them apart.  At times you can even take it to the level of turning subsections of the bigger group against each other. 

The scary part is that today people tend to exercise both lessons at the same time, during the same argument.  It seems natural to gravitate towards like-minded people, and many of us try to “recruit” others to see things our way, ala strength in numbers.  But too often, that “recruitment” is coupled with you trying to break down the different opinions expressed by the other person, ala divide and conquer (bring you over to their side).  In my opinion, an uneducated one mind you, this is why people get so laser focused on getting you to change and attacking your opinion.  This tends to get especially emotional when people disagree over gun rights, abortion, or election results.  Why would anyone suspend the knowledge that we are all imperfect human beings, trying to take care of ourselves and our families, with many similar likes and dislikes, who have the same range of emotions, who bleed when cut, and really just want happiness in our lives? 

The odd reality is, the biggest of adversaries actually have more in common with each other than they are comfortable admitting.  I think the obvious similarities of all people is what scares them the most.  That is why they fight so hard to highlight any difference they see and attack you over it.  Unfortunately, this is what leads people to focus more on someone’s skin color, sexual orientation, financial status, physical appearance, or religious beliefs, they need to find a polarizing difference.  I’ll never understand why a rational person would rather hate you based on a difference of opinion or a physical attribute, like skin color, rather than tolerate you based on the multitudes of ties that bind us together as one people?  But different opinions over a handful of topics, especially politics, have created this unmistakable divide that is widening in our country.  It has led to people spending too much of their time trying to break others down, prove them wrong, or even exploit them because they refuse to agree with reason. 

I don’t know what it will take to get people to respect one another in spite of their differences again.  But I do know that personal wealth, access to education, a strong family unit, and a safe place to live can go a long way toward predetermining which side of an argument you usually fall on.  Accepting a few other simple “facts” could help calm people down too;  not all rich people are greedy or exploit the less financially fortunate, all educated people are not necessarily smart, nor should they be the only decision makers in our country, a strong family influence doesn’t mean that a child won’t stray, not all politicians tell the truth or have your best interests in mind, and most importantly everything you read on the internet or social media IS NOT TRUE, no matter how much it coincides with how you already feel.  Unfortunately, much of the research you find today on any hot topic is nothing more than a one-sided diatribe.  Without too much effort, you can find equal points for and against anything imaginable online, and “proof” has never been a more relative word.

My mother used to tell me that too much of anything is a bad thing.  Granted that was also to get me to stop eating a full box of cereal in one sitting.  I’ve never thought that America was great because of any one person, any single class of people, any one creed, or any one religion.  My love for this country has always been based on one thing, freedom.  Sadly, it is freedom, and the many vastly different interpretations of the word, that also seem to divide us the most.  Earl Riney said, “Freedom without obligation is anarchy;  freedom with obligation is democracy.”  Obviously that quote can be interpreted in a few ways.  I’d like to think that the “obligation” he references is to our fellow beings.  If we take care of one another than we can truly be free, but if all we worry about is ourselves, our society will certainly descend into anarchy. 

“Union” – An association formed by people with a common interest or purpose.  One of the cornerstones of the Labor movement is that all people are treated equally.  Another is that when workers stand together, they achieve more.  No matter your political beliefs, your address, or the god you pray to (if any), remember that remaining united, especially in your workplace, will always give you the best chance to provide for your loved ones.  No one’s interpretation of the second amendment will impact your paycheck.  No matter who the President is, or which party controls the Congress, it’s your involvement during collective bargaining that determines your level of healthcare and retirement benefits.  When unthinkable acts of violence befall our country and its people, it’s the act of coming together and supporting one another that helps us heal.  It shouldn’t only be during those times that our differences cease to matter.  If we want to, we can all find a way to get back to listening and respecting each other.  Although it may seem that our world is utterly divided, a little extra focus on what brings us together can go a long way towards building strength in numbers.  However, if we continue to focus on our differences, we will surely end up divided and conquered.