Finding a Friend for the End of the World

Enough already. We get it. All the words have been used. All the listening is done. If there are thoughtful, reasonable people out there whose opinions can still be shifted, it will not be because they were first disparaged.

I once had the good fortune to hear a remarkable Rwandan speak on the subject of rebuilding his country, post genocide. A question was put to him about how the Hutus and Tutsis could coexist after that. The answer he gave was simple: He and his countrymen had but one choice left: apocalypse, or a future.

They chose a future.

Must we in the United States commit cultural genocide before choosing a future? I don’t believe we must. I know it’s grim out there. So many of us are so obviously in thrall with fatalism, mistrust, and a kind of prideful empathy deficit disorder that’s genuinely puzzling. My theory is that’s what’s behind the Donald Trump candidacy; he’s the grenade. Blow up Washington, so the reasoning goes, and the people will once again have representation, no matter that the representation is fundamentally nihilistic.

The truth is, Washington was only ever a reflection of ourselves. WE put the money into politics. WE venerated wealth. WE created cultural warfare. WE turned against our neighbors. WE are responsible for our disastrous foreign policy. How can we know this is true? It’s the age old axiom: If everyone hates the congress so much, how is its composition so unchanging?

Most Americans evidently think it’s the other party which is exclusively to blame. What an easy fiction that is! How much easier would democracy be if that’s how it worked. Just vote the party line, dummy. But that kind of thinking has run its course. It’s stopped being easy because all the partisan hatred is too exhausting.

So where does that leave us? The grenade…or a future?

I think if you could ask a Tutsi if living next door to a Hutu policeman who had macheted a loved one is a perfect solution, you’d probably hear, no, it isn’t perfect. But these neighbors survived their apocalypse, and from their experiences have gained wisdom that so far has eluded our “first world” problems, over here.  So how far do we need to go before deciding that a future, however imperfect that future may be, is preferable to opening up our own holocaust museum?

So I’ll ask again: Must we commit genocide before choosing a future?

There are those who will say it is better to tear down and rebuild. Perhaps. But isn’t it easier to simply be reasonable with each other? Isn’t it easier to sit down at a table and listen when the other person talks? To be respectful, and show empathy. Isn’t it easier to be even two percent less belligerent, to actively engage in building new habits than remain prisoners to the exhausting status quo, or seek out conflict? Remember: If Washington is a reflection of us, why not start by changing the parts of ourselves that we metaphorically send to Washington? It may be hard to change ourselves, but it’s certainly a helluva lot easier than changing someone else!

There’s reason to hope: We may have lost Bowie and Prince, but not all the good people have gone. Every day on my Facebook feed I see smiling children and happy families. I saw a person post about the outdoor glider chair he inherited from a parent, and another post about a huge cucumber she pulled up out of her garden. There was a guy who posted a really awesome sunset from his boat, and a girl whose daughter recently started the third grade. And what about T-Rex Tuesdays? How great is that?

Isn’t this the real America, the real news? And if we choose to follow the real stuff, the good stuff, isn’t that the antidote to the poison? The noise of our politics may be too loud to totally tune out, but every time we choose to stay in the light, we, as a community of Americans, choose a new habit. Admittedly, new habits can be hard to make—but consider the alternative, as I’ve just presented it. Choosing a future means living to fight another day. American endures, and we course correct from within.