On choosing sides

Ask Kamal what his favorite fruit is, and he'll tell you: "Fruit salad." Ask him about his favorite color, and he'll say, "Rainbow!" 

There's an elusive concept that this almost-four-year-old understands that many of us grownups don't: inclusiveness. And I think about that a lot lately, because lately it feels like every conversation I have revolves around choosing sides. 

We're a pretty sports-oriented country, I know. I see my friends who love their teams dress up and cheer, pray, celebrate wins, grieve losses. I think it's fun for them. (I hope it is. From the outside, looking in as someone who isn't interested in sports, it looks kind of stressful.) And then, you know, we're in an election year, and for better or worse, we have to choose a side there (and not choosing is still a choice--there's no way around choosing). And that brings up everyone's differences of opinion, and it seems like everyone picks a team to root for, and then we feel compelled to stand and shout as loudly and meanly as possible at the other team. 

So here's what I want us to remember: We don't have to choose sides. I mean, yes, we need to vote for a candidate in November, but we can remember that essentially, we all want the same things: safety for our families, the right to pursue happiness, clean water and food security, having enough of the material things we need and maybe a little extra. We all want all those things, and one of the incredible things about living in the United States is that there actually is enough to go around, if we can accept that we all have the same needs and desires.  We can remember that the people with whom we disagree are still people, and hope they feel the same way about us. There is no trophy that only one team gets to take home. There's no pie that you won't get a piece of because somebody else does.

There's no joy in sitting at an eight-course, wine-paired dinner while a hungry person begs for a dollar to buy food outside the window. There is so much joy in sharing a sandwich. There is no growth that comes from trying to convince yourself that the person sleeping on the street deserves his concrete bed and you deserve your safe and warm memory-foam mattress. There is immense growth in finding every scrap of empathy you can muster for every living person, every one of them someone's child, and trying to do what little things you can to work towards a world where everyone has a roof over their head.  There's no peace that comes from teaching your child that there's such a thing as "us" and "them," and there's real potential for real peace-- peace of mind, world peace, the deep and centered peace that is truly every single heart's desire--inherent in teaching our children that we are all here riding the same boat. 

All the lines on maps, all the borders and tolls and badges and memberships--those are all things we made up. All the little signals we give each other to announce what team we're on-- hairstyles and clothes and tattoos, gadgets and vehicles and zip codes, the stuff in our grocery baskets, the music on our players, the ingredients in our sunscreen--none of those things actually possess nearly as much meaning as we ascribe to them. None of them should divide us from one another. We are not warring factions, tribes facing off across a battlefield. We are not Americans or Syrians. We are not Democrats or Republicans. We are not even women or men. We are people, trying our best, every last one of us, and we might as well be trying together. 

Because otherwise, we're just getting in our own way. In football--and I don't really get football, so this should be interesting--the idea is basically to stop the other team from getting from one side of the field to the other with the ball, right? So one team works really hard to get in the other's way. That's fine. That's a game.

But here, in real life, where we all live and work and parent and love, we are all trying to go the same way--from birth to death without too much pain, with as much joy as we can find, with enough to eat and drink, with the people we love beside us. We're all going that way. Blocking anyone from the goal of a good, safe, healthy, realized life is blocking all of us. 

I'm asking all my fellow American voters to remember this in these loud and prickly months approaching this big, important election. Remember that anyone trying to divide us into factions, anyone using divisiveness or fear of other human beings as the central point of a campaign, does not have your best interests at heart, no matter who you are. And I'm asking everyone to remember this when you read the words "Black Lives Matter," because black lives do matter, and saying that isn't taking sides in any way against people who aren't black; rather, it's a critical and truthful assertion at a point in history where there have been too many assertions to the contrary.

My favorite color is red. My favorite fruit is mango. But my wise and unimpeachable child doesn't feel the need to have a favorite anything.  The world is big and full of possibility, of beautiful things in every color of the rainbow and more incredible flavors than can fit in your own bowl. There's nothing to disown, and so much to claim. Each one of us is all of us, on the same team, working shoulder to shoulder in the same row.  


Mandala mural by Bud Snow