Opponents but not enemies


Well, that didn’t take long. Wasn’t it less than a week ago we had those heartfelt eulogies about working together? All it takes is a Supreme Court justice nominee and a book to put everyone back in their corners. When did we forget how to be opponents but not enemies?

This is real on the macro and the micro scale. Let me relate a short story about what I mean.

This past Labor Day weekend, I was at my sister’s for a barbecue. Just her, my brother-in-law and their next-door neighbor. And food for about three times as many.

So, I enjoyed the excellent BBQ ribs, chicken and burgers (hey, I was hungry!) and good company. We moved on to dessert and then, for some reason, during a conversation about something totally unrelated, my sister went off about immigrants.

Not wanting to spoil the mood, I simply said that I thought the issue was a little more complicated than she presented. Then I said, I was not going to engage.

Immediately, by brother-in-law said that I must approve of immigrants flooding over the border without any controls. I repeated my refrain about not engaging, this time with a qualification that my silence does not validate his assertion.

I was dismayed by two things: the anger behind the other people at the table and that it seemed no longer enough not to disagree with someone. It now seems that unless you proclaim agreement, loudly and passionately, you are the enemy.

That is a poor way to live life. Opposing viewpoints are critical to making the world better. It’s how we ultimately build all those “better mousetraps”.

And, it’s okay to argue with passion. Feeling strongly about a position is a good thing. Closing off all dissent or not considering it does not help anyone, on either side.

Disagreeing with an opinion does not make a person “bad”. People championing anti-abortion causes are not un-American. Nor are those clamoring for gun control un-American. Both believe what they are fighting for will save lives. Their opposition believes they are taking away their personal freedoms.

These are passionate and important issues. The opposing sides are set and often beyond the point of convincing. But both sides are Americans. They are opponents but not enemies.

I’m not sure they realize that, though.

It’s understandable. The last presidential election and current administration has left the country charged and on edge. But is Trump a reason for the bad behavior or an excuse.

What is the chicken and the egg here? Would our country be in a better place if our elected leadership showed us how to get along? Would bi-partisanship make Americans realize we can be opponents without being enemies?

Or, could citizens show our elected officials the way it is done. If, by our actions and comments, we made it clear that we can and will seek compromise. Would that not create an explicit demand on our lawmakers to do the same?

Like all “which came first” questions, the answer is elusive. One thing seems certain, though. Nothing will get resolved until we remember how to be opponents but not enemies.

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