Earlier this summer, middle son and I undertook a road trip from Georgia to Colorado to Iowa. He volunteered to find interesting things along the way. We saw: the world’s largest easel, the world’s largest spur, and the world’s largest ketchup bottle – which, incidentally, is for sale.
Son also incorporated a series of civil rights stops on our route. That began in Atlanta at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Park site. I had been there years ago, but the history and admonitions tugged on my sleeve a bit harder this year. We were then in St. Louis to see the arch, but it was there that we visited the Dred Scott monument because it was the Gateway City where the court case which bears his name was filed. On our way toward Kansas, we stopped in Ferguson. Yes. That Ferguson. We visited the Michael Brown Jr. plaque that was recently installed near where he was killed. The next day we were in Topeka at Monroe Elementary; that visit coupled with the Equality House right across from Westboro Baptist Church and hours of road tripping in Western Kansas (it’s still really flat) gave me a lot of time to think.
Our job here is not to make things more difficult for each other. Humans are not meant to construct giant obstacles in each others’ paths: from slavery to social exclusion, from institutionalized racism to politicized sexism to we are experts at enslaving others’ lives and spirits. The burgeoning presidential election seems to bring this into everyone’s newsfeeds in every form possible. It’s demoralizing.
People, we are meant to support and help each other. Why do we spend so much time down-talking people’s plans and dreams? Is there something organic in human beings that makes us want to spread horseshit about others? What makes us want to make others’ lives as hard as possible? I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a lifetime of accusations and hatred tossed around this summer. It’s truly awful. And, some of us do it in the name of tradition. In the name of our schools. In the name of our political parties. In the name of our churches!
Hosts of philosophical answers, from thinkers much more erudite than I, would answer those questions in any number of ways: Ego. Testosterone. Manifest destiny. Mental Illness. Intellectual blindness. Self-constructed spiritual superiority.
America has always been big on – well, big stuff. We like to go all out. From family reunions to rodeos to theatre: it’s hard to find a country that will outdo America in BIGNESS.
So, after this summer’s trip, I have an idea: how about we all – in our own corner of the world – create big opportunities for anyone around us? What if we create big social interaction by visiting with neighbors or having a neighborhood picnic? Might we create big comfort by reaching out to those who are hurting? Could we clear a big road by standing up for those different than we are?
I have to say, those things are being taught – even insisted upon – in our schools as part of community building and anti-bullying programs. Many adults are asking their kids to do what they refuse to do when considering politics or religion or sexual orientation or race. What if we tried to come together in similarity instead of encouraging the dividing lines to do what they do best?
Wouldn’t it be great if our kids could visit future sites dedicated to the biggest most diverse happiest neighborhood?
As a nation that loves giant things, we seem to be focused on giantizing our differences and problems, and the election rhetoric isn’t helping. C’mon, people, let’s work on shrinking the hate and obstacles and focus on super-sizing the acceptance, tolerance, and understanding.