Let’s play around for a minute with a little thought experiment. I will give you some brief background information about two white men, both in the 25-54 age range. Try and form sketches of these two men in your mind, and be honest to yourself about whether your feelings are positive or negative.
Person A is not merely a Starbucks Rewards member, but a Starbucks Gold Card member. He is the son of two former college professors and married a public school teacher. He went to college in Greenwich Village, earning a journalism degree. He used to drive a Subaru. Now, he rides public transportation into Chicago each morning to work at his desk job in the broadly defined tech/media industry, a job representative of the 21st Century knowledge economy. He subscribes to Atlantic Monthly. He runs for fitness, enjoys sushi, and has never held a real gun.
Person B is a not merely a Sam’s Club member, but a Sam’s Club Plus member. He is the nephew of a country music DJ and occasional rodeo participant, and the great nephew of a stock car racing pioneer. He enjoys watching NASCAR without irony. He and his wife are home-schooling their daughters. He attends a large, non-denominational church weekly. He prays and reads the Bible, of which he owns three copies in different translations. Each morning he reads the Wall Street Journal, but he doesn’t much care for PBS and has open disdain for NPR. He enjoys football without hesitation, and if he had sons instead of daughters he would encourage them to play football themselves. He enjoys Mountain Dew, domestic beer, and the music of Hank Williams Jr. and ZZ Top.
Now, I haven’t told you enough about Person A or Person B so that you could possibly know for certain all about either one. Nonetheless, chances are that, if you are completely honest with yourself, one of those descriptions was one which made you feel fairly comfortable, while the other made you react with at best a feeling of detached “otherness” and at worst a feeling of resentment or even disdain.
So, now for the reveal, which you may well have guessed by now: Both of the above descriptions are of the same person. Both Person A and Person B describe me.
You may love me or you may hate me or more likely you lie somewhere in between, but you should not form snap judgments about my character based on where I shop or the car I drive or the job I hold (within reason) or the music I prefer or, really, even who I voted for. All of these things may give you clues to my identity, but none of them on its own gives you enough information to make a definitive judgment about my character.
We are, unfortunately and sadly, living in an age where every little choice we make feels politically loaded. Why should going to Starbucks make me a Democrat and shopping at Sam’s Club label me as a Republican? Maybe Starbucks is ubiquitous and makes a decent enough cup of coffee for me to buy, and maybe Sam’s Club happens to be located closer to my home than Costco and happens to sell items in bulk that my family enjoys and help us save money. It should not have to be this way.
As we retreat into our social media comfort zones and echo chambers of our peers, we act hypocritically and betray the principles which we claim to hold. Some relish accusing anyone who disagrees with them as being motivated by “hate,” all the while making snap judgments and name-calling and being guilty of what any neutral observer would identify as much deeper intolerance and hatred than any mere policy position on its own could betray. Others spent eight years decrying a President for stretching the bounds of his constitutional authority and cynically pitting factions against each other for his own political gain, and now cheer when a President nominally on their side gets into office and begins doing the exact same thing.
This is not good. This is not healthy. We are, as Jerry Seinfeld once astutely put it in reference to professional athletes changing teams, rooting for laundry. But, it’s worse than that. While sports offers up a relatively healthy outlet for our more tribal instincts, politics and the real world are very destructive places to engage those same appetites. In the real world, we must dig in less and attempt to cooperate more. To alter the words of the Aaron Burr character in Hamilton (the best character in that play, by the way), we should talk more and smile more.
With that, let me end this on an upbeat and patriotic note. The great hope and the genius of America is that, for all its troubles, it is still ours. Want to feel better? Get out and talk to your neighbors. Volunteer for charity. Join a local organization that matches your interests. Interact with people slightly outside of your usual comfort zone (in person, not online). You may find that the people who shop or consume media or (God forbid) even vote differently than you might not be such bad people after all, and you probably have a lot more in common than you may think. Want to stick it to the powerful who are turning our society into an agitated, polarized, cesspool? Then don’t take orders from them. Get out there yourself and be kind to others. Get involved. Do your small part to make your corner of the world a friendlier place. If enough of us do the same, a lot of corners will become friendlier. After a while, those corners add up to some serious real estate.
Best of all, it can free us up to be completely tribal in an area where it’s harmless, like sports. Go Patriots.
New England 41, Atlanta 17.