An open letter to my Conservative friends

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of tension between ideologies that people for some reason tend to view as “one or the other.”

The spate of violence in our country has fueled a lot of simmering arguments about gun control, police militarization, race, and other things. I think these arguments at their core are healthy. I read something this morning that really put it into focus for me — there was a meme that read: “Things are not getting worse, they’re getting uncovered.” I think we’re at a growth point in our evolution as a country, and it’s scary and painful. But, worthwhile, like any growth point.

The thing that has left me unsettled and made me want to write this is that I feel like the rhetoric has taken some frightening turns. I’ve overheard friends on numerous occasions make allusions to things like “revolution” and “civil war,” numerous calls to “take our country back,” even to go as far as to make thinly veiled threats like “they’re going to wish they had guns when we decide we’ve had enough.” Maybe they’re meant figuratively, but the context is usually somewhat aggressive and violent, and it’s always angry, and sometimes from people who are nothing but kind and loving to me to my face and in every other context, but almost militant in their dislike for “liberal America.” I tend to hear them mostly from conservatives. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong.

I’m not going to lie — I sway pretty liberal. I don’t own and probably will never own a gun; I’m in favor of gay marriage, equal rights, women’s options to have an abortion if they choose, single payer health care, investing more in education and infrastructure; and maybe a little less in defense and corporate subsidies. That said, I also believe in personal responsibility, entrepreneurship, and constitutional freedoms. I believe you should be able to purchase guns, just not any gun you want in the world — much like I have the right to drive a car, but I don’t have the right to drive an IHRA funny car to work. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m not. But that’s how I feel and I think fact supports my opinion.

I think that many of our financial ills (underemployment, lack of funds for infrastructure, etc.) can be directly traced to the lack of investment from the wealthy in our community, either in the form of good paying jobs and/or tax revenue.  The system has been gamed over the course of 40 years, and the seeds are growing now. I think that fact supports that opinion. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m not.

But, I’m not writing this to accent our differences. I’m writing this to reinforce our similarities. And get personal about how the “us vs. them” mindset is affecting everyone. The fact is that we’re not “liberals” or “conservatives” — we’re humans. All of us love our families, even if it’s complicated. All of us want to have a roof over our head and food on our table.  All of us are upset by injustice. All of us have a way that we see the world that “works,” and we get frustrated and angry when it isn’t going the way we think it’s supposed to.

Here’s where it gets personal: When you, my friend of the Conservative persuasion, talk about “revolution” and “taking our country back” or warn about the “civil war” that’s coming, you’re talking about revolting again ME. When you talk about “rising up” and “taking the country back” — you’re rising up and taking it it back from ME.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding the tenor of these statements and you mean them in more of an intellectual way. But, if you are fantasizing about armed rebellion in some way — whenever you may fantasize about armed rebellion, you’re doing it against ME.

I know you don’t mean it that way. I know that you don’t intend to rise up violently against me personally. But maybe if you thought about it that way, it might temper your language a little.

I think and believe we can work together and find compromise. I feel that defining what is a personal choice and what really undermines the fabric of our country and world will be a big help.  But here’s what I want you to do: Whenever the ideas like those spring up, think of me. I’m a teacher. I have two daughters whom I love more profoundly and selflessly than I thought I could. I’m not special by any means, but I have hopes and dreams and one of them is peace. My personal “liberal agenda” is to eat good food, have fun doing things I enjoy, make memories with the people I love, help when and where I can, and do something of lasting meaning in the world. I want the same for you, even if they’re not things I particularly like. I am not armed, and even if shit hits the fan I probably still won’t be. That’s not the world I want to live in. If it makes me a target, so be it.

So, when you say “civil war,” think of me. Think of putting a bullet in my chest, or slitting my throat, or whatever image works best for you. Own that for a second. How do you feel? Do you feel like you’ve defended the nation from a threat? Or do you feel like you’ve killed a defenseless, innocent person? Because here’s the thing — there’s a groundswell of that language and thought. And you can’t control it once there’s a flood. If you don’t agree with me, tell me why I’m wrong.  Be ready to listen to what I have to say, too. But TALK TO ME.  Not a “liberal moron.” ME. A human being.

This is a two-way street. I’m listening to your frustrations too. I’m trying to be honest with myself and own when we’re full of shit too. Because there is no ideology that isn’t partially full of shit. But only partially. So let’s find the pieces that are good, be painfully honest with ourselves about the parts that aren’t, find places we can agree to disagree, and make this work. I have complete faith that we can.

Do you?

Mostly, I’m working really hard to move beyond labels and the destructive idea that there are sides. I am who I am, I believe in the things I believe. But I’m also willing to compromise, really and truly. I’m willing to try and see things from someone else’s perspective — for example, as uncomfortable as guns make me, I’m still willing to go out to a shooting range with someone so I can see first hand what it’s like. Facts are uncomfortable because they don’t give a shit about our feelings. Let’s face them anyway. But let’s do it together. The alternative being thrown around is not acceptable.

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