I see a lot of arguments about America being a “great country”. I think we should focus on a different question.
That question is….
How can we get BETTER?
Virulent, vehement nationalism happens in many places. I am focused, however, on the only country I have ever lived in. Conversations often boil down to the false separation in the minds of some that one can either be “patriotic”, or “someone who should go live somewhere else”.
I don’t grade my students or country on a curve.
I don’t think defensive nationalism shows a lot of confidence in our ability as humans to improve. I have confidence. I think humans are not infallible, but nonetheless amazing. I say this often: We have constructed spaceships and split the atom. We can do a better job with some other things, too. It requires combining compassion and rational thought.
We spend a lot of time arguing about why things are or are not “as bad as those other people” and whose fault it all is. We thus spend a lot of time rationalizing and preserving the status quo.
What if we just got better, and gave each other chances to get better? Let me show you some conversations with nonproductive, defensive responses compared to more productive, thoughtful responses. I am going to simulate a conversation with two people.
Meet Knee Jerk McAngerson and Compassion Rational McThoughterstein. Man, the way folks name their kids these days. Whatever happened to names like “John”, and “Mike”? But, I digress.
Person Critiquing Corporations: “The way corporations behave is not in keeping with the construction of a healthy economy or society.”
KJ: “You hate America. Go live in the USSR in the 1980s. You probably rooted for Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. This is reality, you buckethead. Humans are always and only greedy. Any thought that we could cooperate better is stupid fantasy land crap. WE are the best. We have the iPhone. ‘Murica.”
CR: “I know you don’t own a Delorean with a flux capacitor, so never mind KJ’s request that you travel back in time. There are options beyond pure Capitalism, Communism, and Socialism. Changing our practices is a difficult thing because so much of how we live is tied up in exploiting cheap labor. But there are examples of more cooperative, conscientious business ventures that still make a good profit. How can we promote the creation of more of these kinds of businesses? What are the factors that influence the behavior of businesses? What laws do we need? What is the responsibility of the consumer?”
Which is more difficult? Time travel, or injecting more compassion and long-term perspective into the way we share resources?
Activist: “Black Lives Matter”
KJ: “ALL Lives Matterrrrr! You are so reverse racist. Thanks for making white people the most truly oppressed people on the planet. Go solve your black on black crime problem, ya bunch of dirty welfare murderers.” (Yeah, that was over the top. That is the extreme response I have seen. We also need to address its cousin – being annoyed at people begging not to be targeted.)
CR: “”How can I help these darker brothers and sisters of mine, since we all live here together? They appear to be in pain. Maybe I should spend some time talking to some of them. Maybe my one black friend doesn’t understand everything, either, and cannot speak for all individuals of the same hue. Maybe a good percentage of them are straight up catching it because of the color of their skin, and that’s bad. Maybe, Dr. King didn’t solve everything. He wasn’t an omega level mutant, after all.”
Concerned About Guns: “There have been more mass killings here than in any other developed country”
KJ: “Stop trying to take my guns, you Obama sympathizer! Second Amendment! I am a well-trained militia. Don’t tread on me! Rowwrrrr!” (I made up the last part. No one has ever roared at me like a lion in a debate over gun violence.)
CR: “Listen, I am wary of a government agency forcing me to give up a means of protection I grew up with. Are there some things we can put in place to 1) address illegal guns 2) make sure that we monitor who is getting guns like we do with cars 3) leave people alone who hunt for food and want to protect their home. Let’s do some other things that address the root causes of violence, like how we view life/each other.
Feminist: “Stop blaming women for what they wear when they get raped!”
KJ: “Well, they shouldn’t advertise a product they are not willing to sell because a man has to steal that product when it is advertised.”
CR: “Ignore that guy. Women are not products. The data actually shows that dress has little to do with whether a woman gets raped or not. But even that is irrelevant. People just shouldn’t rape other people. Women raped by acquaintances are raped because the person is valuing their momentary pleasure over that person’s life and well-being. Let’s address this with both our boys and girls. They should both feel like they own their bodies, and should see each other first as humans, not as orgasm vending machines. Yes, people can protect themselves. But the primary issue must be trying to figure out how to get people to stop raping other people. Even if it takes us all week.”
KJ: “People have been raped since the beginning of time. You can’t solve that in a week, you idiot.”
CR: “Man, we are really late in stopping it then. Even counting from 0 B.C., that is like two thousand and fifteen years. We stopped burning witches. We ended chattel slavery here. Let’s work on this one. And also let’s work on murder. We have time now. I know it is going to be tough because there are so many individual and population factors involved. But if we start now, it might take less than 1,000 years. I know it will take more than a week. I was just joking.”
Professor: “Insensitive statement…blah blah blah.”
KJ: “That offended me, I am starting a petition to get you fired.”
CR: “Let me tell you why I think that was wrong. You are making sweeping generalizations that don’t really do a good job of predicting or explaining the behavior of most individuals like me. Further, your statements remove individuals from their contexts, and that hampers where they can go as well as how we can help them.”
What if we lived up to what so many of us tell our kids?
Parent: “Stop doing that”
Kid: “So and so does it, too!”
Parent: “You are not so and so! I raised you better than that!”
Kid: “But they made me angry!”
Parent: “Have you thought about why that made you so angry? Can you find better ways to express your anger? How about focusing that energy on how you can get better?”
What if we were willing to question ourselves like we ask our kids to? What if we just tried to be better, in every way, every day?
I wonder what we could accomplish. Hell, let’s find out. It could be fun.
Try this: The next time someone challenges you to do better or challenges our nation to do better – figure out what you can do to facilitate that. It can be small or big. Just allow your energy to flow toward that, instead of defending the status quo like it is baby Jesus in a manger inside of a tornado being attacked by a wicked witch.
This article was previously published on The Neighborhood Neuroscientist. Read the original article.
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