The world has always been a violent, dangerous place full of prejudice and fear. In ancient civilizations it was a given that people killed and were murdered for innumerable reasons (Rome conquered and enslaved much of the world and entertained itself watching gladiators eviscerate one another); pharaohs were entombed with their servants; the Israelites massacred their enemies with the help of God.
More recently witches were burned; the Spanish Inquisition cleansed the “true faith;” destiny manifested itself with the genocide of many native peoples, worldwide. Even in the past century hatred and prejudice have resulted in the catastrophic destruction of millions (Hitler’s Germany, the Serbian massacre of Bosnians, Rwanda’s Tutsi genocide).
In post-WWII America, we believed that we had evolved beyond that past. With some notable exceptions, we identified with tolerance, acceptance, peace, freedom. That is who we were and how we perceived the world (and thought the world perceived us). For the most part, we welcomed refugees from Cuba and Vietnam; we respected and tolerated other religions (even the weird ones); we legislated equality (even if we didn’t practice it), we believed in peace (although we were usually fighting someplace in the world).
The Twenty-First Century has consistently challenged our vision of ourselves. It has frightened and confused us. We were brave, valiant, generous, wealthy, tolerant; the protector of the weak and downtrodden. If that is not who we are, then who are we?
The politics of the day feeds our fears and we are bombarded with rhetoric designed to incite those fears and polarize us. The things we fear are real, but not simple. Bullying, prejudice, bigotry, zealotry, greed, and poverty all contribute to our confusion. There is no single cause.
This morning a friend reminded me that “we are more alike than we are different. We all just want the same things;” Safety, security, love, faith, tolerance, peace.
What will ensure those common desires; more guns, more wars, walls at our borders, more social services, more money, more prisons, better healthcare?
Maybe we weren’t who we thought we were, but I loved my illusions and want them restored.