Much that defines our days is excruciatingly finite. Our time. Our energy. Our attention. Our health. It is important to avoid frittering away our lifetimes on self-destructive behaviors or activities—and toxic individuals.
I would argue that the same limitations and advice should apply to our nation as a whole.
We often forget that the truly awful outcome of the unremitting fury that seems to prevail in America today is that incredible amounts of our energy and potential are being wasted on focusing and fine-tuning the many hatreds that both define and limit our daily lives. A litany of individual and group injustices—none of which are ever resolved or even resolvable—are what now drive our national discussions and policies. Whatever the issue being presented, it now arrives with a heaping spoonful of red-hot grievance ladled right on the top.
Life is, sadly, an unfair process. We are born with certain abilities and limitations. Opportunities are offered or denied to us for reasons that are obscure or arbitrary. Health concerns may suddenly appear that completely alter the courses of our lives. Technological changes could improve our lives or ruin them. Pipes burst. Cars don’t start. Paperwork is misplaced. Insects sting us. Ice is slippery. And the television remote is always disappearing. It’s a tough world even on the best of days.
Humans beings are full of flaws that create yet more problems. We produce unending mountains of waste products and squander our resources. Those whom we love and trust are sometimes worthy—and sometimes not. We think short term and rarely plan for the future. We are suckers for sob stories and charlatans. Basic math eludes us. Belligerence is too often our default response. We are forgetful and easily distracted. We enjoy stimulating our nerve endings in incredibly unhealthful ways. We don’t floss enough.
However, perhaps our worst problem—one that is an outcome of both life’s mysterious unfairness and our own weaknesses—is that we insist upon blaming others for our miseries. The injustice of not getting what we want, when we want it, and from whom we want it is much easier to endure when it is somebody else’s fault. The list of whom we can blame includes everyone—and clever, manipulative leaders know that identifying the right enemies is almost as important as picking the right allies.
It is, of course, true that both individuals and nations engage in stupid and terrible behavior for which they should be held accountable. However, our mindless hatreds of entire groups of people also allow us to deflect responsibility for our own failures and miseries onto a handy scapegoat, which is both comfortable and, strangely enough, positively exhilarating for many because this provides an excuse for their many life disappointments.
Start your list anywhere. Jews, Satan, and Pagans were commonly blamed in times gone by—and they’re still on the hate hit parade for many today. Pick any nationality, race, or ethnicity, and they’ll find their moment in the history of our many hatreds. Living in our post-Freudian age, Mommy and Daddy are always easy targets for explaining why our adult lives are wrecks. Secret and ill-defined conspiracies are always popular with the more paranoid among us, and these are now often wrapped up with the nefarious machinations of the super wealthy, international corporations, shadowy governmental bodies, bankers, hidden military bases, hereditary royalty, lawyers, space aliens, pharmaceutical companies, human traffickers—or some combination thereof.
Nonetheless, today in America it’s all about the color of your skin. Call it the Rainbow Theory of Endless Oppression. All disparities regarding our life successes and outcomes are apparently readily explained by the hatreds of others for the particular hues of our flesh.
The obvious problem with any hate-based belief system is that we rarely return love to those whom we believe hate us, so this results in a ceaselessly spinning circle of hatreds that may or may not have any basis in reality.
Maybe your white supervisor gave that promotion to someone else because you are black—or not. Maybe your black supervisor gave that promotion to someone else because you are white—or not. However, the belief that you were treated unjustly by your boss allows you to glide past any annoying questions regarding your own skills and qualifications while allowing for some immensely satisfying self-pity that will morph into self-satisfying anger that you can thereafter inflict on someone else. Hurrah for hatred!
All of this idiocy is, sad to say, turbocharged by ham-fisted efforts to ameliorate past injustices by creating race-based preferences that create new injustices of their own. As well-meaning and perhaps necessary as these efforts might be, they inevitably end up creating the perception that those who are less able are being given an unfair advantage because of their skin color. Moreover, the pretzel logic necessary to argue that today’s discrimination is A-OK because of a bigoted history requires a peculiar willingness to punish those who are guiltless regarding the foolishness of past centuries. Pointing this out is, of course, a sure sign of discrimination—and so the ceaselessly spinning circle of hatreds keeps right on spinning.
The simple fact that we have all become cannon fodder in racial warfare that helps few and destroys many should obviously depress us. However, what is the saddest of all is that the vast majority of Americans—black, white, and every skin tone in between—are decent and compassionate individuals who find it difficult to discern why so many are convinced our nation is a hell hole of hatreds.
The pushback we are seeing against Critical Race Theory and its pervasive influence is often presumed to be a symptom of the so-called systemic racism it is meant to battle. Perhaps the actual explanation is far more simple and painful: Many, many Americans are flat out insulted by the presumptions of those leveling the accusations of racism as a global explanation for all that ails our country. As a result, those who could easily become friends or allies instead become implacable combatants. What sense does any of this make?
Worse yet, too many believe all variations in human behaviors and judgments can continue to be explained by hateful biases that—whether hardwired or learned—are presumed to be forever immutable. Any sense that humans can experience self-reflection and life learning that change our inherited beliefs is discarded. We are closed mental and emotional systems—for all time to come—so we must forever glower at one another across the ramparts of race.
How then are we to explain the disappearance of our historical hatreds?
When we are exposed to any experience or stimulus, we can react in one of two ways—we can either embrace it or reject it. This is what separates us from lower forms of life that lack the brain cells to engage in analysis and introspection. Human beings are the sum of our connections to others—and the lessons that we internalize as a result.
Thankfully, throughout the difficult and sometimes bitter centuries of this great country, we have learned a lot. We have, working together as Americans, built a nation that has largely—but not completely—rejected the bigotries of our ancestors. Nevertheless, too many of our conversations today seem intent on reviving the sort of racial animus that our modern, interdependent, and amazingly diverse land has largely rejected.
One of the many blessings of being an American is that we can adopt a national identity that is decoupled from any racial, ethnic, or linguistic identity that would isolate a person or group in another country that is not composed almost entirely of immigrants and their descendants. To reject this unique opportunity in favor of a renewed commitment to atavistic tribalism that separates us based on the colors of our skins instead of uniting us under a single flag is incredibly dangerous—and we are paying a price for such foolishness today.
A diverse nation must ask its citizens to embrace a vision of themselves beyond what they see in a mirror in order to reduce conflict; to fail in this is to guarantee unending tensions and confrontations. Those who are encouraging division are taking cruel advantage of our human weaknesses to advance their own disturbing agenda—and we must resist their siren song of hatred.
Our lives are far too short to waste our time doing otherwise. Moreover, the energies now being sapped by haters who pretend to be healers is weakening our nation at the very moment that we most need to save our strength for the difficult challenges lying just ahead for our country.
We all need to ask ourselves whether this endless hatred will save America or not.