Lately, I can’t help but notice how people think we have lost our way. That we have fallen so far as a nation that we might never find our way back to whatever track we happened to be on before. But I don’t think that is quite true. At least not yet.
I haven’t lost faith in this country because I haven’t yet lost my faith in humanity. I like to think of us all as one large extended family sitting together at a Thanksgiving table, or maybe it’s Christmas or even just some random day in some mediocre month.
We have generations filing through wanting our voices to be heard. We have our patriarchs and matriarchs at the head of the table who think they know our best course because they have seen what our young eyes have not. We have those stuck in the middle who can see from both sides of the table, stuck between the two because they see all of the shades of grey in-between. And then we have the young voices at the end who want to nothing more than to prove they have something worth listening to. Which they do.
We all do. All of us deserve to have our voices heard. It is impossible to solve a disagreement without hearing all sides of the argument. How can you fix something if you’re not even sure what has caused it to become broken in the first place?
Change is not the type of thing you can just force onto a family. It takes time. It takes adjustment, compassion, empathy and a whole sluice of other adjectives that solidify my point.
But when I look across this table that is our country I can see us evolving. I see us asking the important questions we have always slipped under the rug because they were too hard to ask before. I see my grandfather’s opinions softening with the realization that maybe the beliefs forced upon him in his youth weren’t quite what was best for the whole — or for anyone, for that matter. I see my parents and their siblings no longer silencing us children who make our opposing opinions known. They are there, softening the blow between the two. I see a young generation connecting to a larger whole that has never been so accessible to the generations that came before them. And their eyes are open. They want to share with their family the things they have noticed the neighbors doing differently. The things they think could help us all.
And as our voices carry over the green bean casserole and candied yams, we hear ourselves growing louder. Voices raising to make a point, making even the usually quiet nephew shout because he has something of value to add to this argument. And at some point all these voices become so loud we can no longer distinguish one from the other. We are yelling to be heard but we are no longer listening to what others are saying. It’s no longer a debate but a shouting match.
But then something happens. Grandma has had enough of our arguing and rises from her chair, tapping a knife to her glass, and the room suddenly grows silent. She then reminds us that we are all family, and we must figure out a way to come together even with our disagreements. Because no matter what, we are stuck with one another, and will we be sitting at this very same table next year, together, and our opinions aren’t going to miraculously shift in three hundred and sixty-five days.
Maybe that is what we all need—a voice of reason to remind us that we need to be civil, to listen to other people and discuss our disagreements rationally. You can’t change someone’s opinion just by telling them that it’s wrong. You have to listen, and they too must listen. And then gradually they might understand your point of view, and who knows, you might even understand theirs.
And I already see this happening. I hear us talking. I see us listening. I know people want things to change. I see us working toward it. But I also see those who are reluctant to it. And we cannot shove those people forward because then they would just end up resenting us all. But maybe a gentle nudge here and there, as well as understanding why they are so firmly set in the first place.
Not everyone is going to walk away from the table satisfied. But it makes a world of difference if they at least feel as if they are being heard. So we must listen, even if we don’t quite agree. It gives us a point to start from. And a goal to strive for.
One day we will get there. Or maybe we won’t. But as long as we are moving in the right direction, I think we will be okay. We just have to keep talking and doing what we are already doing. And that right there is why I have not lost my faith in us. Change is not something that happens over one single discussion. But as long as we keep on talking, at some point we will eventually get there.