I grew up in a conservative household, and the effects of my upbringing are still strong in me. I learned that life started at conception and that all abortion in any form was completely wrong, that homosexuality was a sin against God and nature, that Democrats use bribery with government funds to buy votes from the greedy poor who refuse to put in a hard day’s work and that guns were the only thing keeping America from falling apart into a tyrannical fascist dictatorship.
Until I came to college, this was the only version of reality I knew. I accepted it at face value, because my parents told me it was true and I never knew my parents to be wrong. Then I met people from a completely different world, a world that I’m still learning and starting to comprehend.
In this new world, the beginning of life is irrelevant to the suffering of the mother, gay people are not only sinless, they are role models, that a sinister upper-class of businesses use their massive wealth to control everything in the country and abuse the hard-working poor of America.
Most startling to me was that the people I knew who lived in both worlds were intelligent, kind and hard-working people. They both viewed each other as the heartless enemy, yet both sides had a lot of heart and cared very much for their fellow human beings.
So by separating myself from my family (by about 300 miles) I was forced to deal with both realities. At this point in time, many individuals choose to double-down on their beliefs and oppose those who believe differently even more than before. But I cannot ignore the fact that both sides consist of good people who honestly think they are doing what is best for the world. The likelihood of half the country being completely wrong on so many points and the other half being right on so many points seemed to me to be a statistical improbability. It would require either one half of the country to be evil or completely idiotic. Since the people I met were neither evil nor stupid, I was forced to confront each individual issue and how it compared to my values.
What I learned upon my examination was that both sides believe that they see a “big picture” for what America is and how it should be. One side sees the big picture as a creeping government behemoth that seeks to limit our freedoms, while others see the big picture as a struggle between the abused masses and a world controlled by greedy corporations. Could it be that the real big picture is neither?
All corporations and the government are made up of people just like you and me, with their own lives, family and concerns. This is the big picture. When you look at a corporate executive or a government official, you’re not looking at some sort of evil creature that wants to undermine your interests. You’re looking at a human being, just like you. Even the most corrupt politician or the most heartless businessman has threads of personality that ring true with our own. It’s easy to make someone out to be an enemy when the part of him or her you hate the most is also the part of yourself that you hate the most. This is the big picture.
This is not a country where one side is trying to destroy the other. This is not a country where the powerful form conspiracies to take advantage of the helpless. This is a country where many good, smart people have come to different conclusions about what the country should be and what the future should look like. When we become so deeply entrenched in our beliefs that we can no longer see our opponents as anything but the enemy, and their ideas as evil incarnate, we become the extremists, and that is what is harming America more than anything else. This is the big picture.