It’s possible to be happy and sad at the same time. I find myself in such a situation right now. I’m happy for many reasons, but I’m sad about the events that have unfolded in the world around me as the outrage grows over the senseless murder of George Floyd, yet another black person killed because of the color of his skin. The list of tragic black murders continues to grow and yet nothing changes. Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be?
When I was a young man and the ferocious flame of idealism roared deep in my soul, I had convinced myself that institutional racism ended with Brown vs. Topeka in the Supreme Court if only because the truth was too hard to look at, too contradictory to everything I thought I believed. I grew up in the rural south in a time that seems lost in today’s world. It wasn’t uncommon to meet people who spat racial epithets as if that made them bigger than their scrawny little brains proved. In fact, I remember my high school experience more for the racial fights than I do for the friends I made and the girls I crushed on. It was an embarrassment that I vowed to leave behind in the dustbin of unfortunate circumstances.
Had you asked me back then what I thought the year 2020 would look like, I would have painted a picture of progress, forward-thinking, and collaboration where the best ideas won out over recessive tribalism. I might have even suggested that the “Us vs. Them” narrative would have died an ugly death at the feet of intelligence. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Instead, the tribal instinct has grown rather than been stamped out in the name of enlightened progress. The “Us vs. Them” narrative has taken an ugly turn. We are no closer today as human beings than we were when I still harbored that youthful idealism. Today, I’m a cynical, old man with nary a flicker of idealism remaining in my darkening soul.
In the place of progress stands a paper tiger of sorts, the all or nothing autocracy. You have to be one thing or another. There’s no in between, and there’s certainly no room for logic or common sense. The moronic talking heads would have us believe that it’s too complicated for anything more than that, and the sad thing is that many people cast aside their hard-earned critical thinking skills and accept these simpleton arguments. The world is being dumbed down for us. We only have to accept it and ignore that everything is more complicated.
Never mind that it is possible to love the ideals upon which your country is based and be critical of it at the same time. It’s possible to support law enforcement and be critical of bad players and demand justice when those bad players show themselves. It’s possible to always stand for the national anthem and sing along with pride yet support those who feel that the nation doesn’t value them as much. These things may seem like contradictions, but despite what the pundits may have you believe, life is not black or white (no pun intended). It’s gray, very gray.
I’ve been very complicit in all of this. I’ve tried to vote for candidates that offered the best chance for a common future that we can all be proud of, but I’ve largely failed to effect any change. The fact that we are limited to two parties that do nothing more than shamelessly pander to the fringes of their membership, both of which have bought the all or nothing argument hook, line, and sinker, gives me no hope for any immediate change or progress. I’ve never walked the streets in protest. I’ve convinced myself that if I lived my life in a way that exemplified my ideals that it would somehow change the course of history, but it hasn’t. We’re stuck. My generation has been useless. We’ve largely failed. I’ve failed.
If there is a glimmer of hope, I see it in my kids. Of course, both of them are near peak idealism. I see my former self in them when I talk to them about serious things. I’ll give my opinion if they ask, but I mostly let them talk. I want to draw from their youthful enthusiasm. They don’t need to be saddled with the weight of my experience. Experience is a great teacher, but it’s also a cold-hearted bastard. Both of them are better than I was at their age. They are more intelligent and more passionate than I was. I don’t speak of the painful realizations that are to come. I hope they can transcend these things and push the world forward just a little. That’s my hope. If that happens, then my life was worth it. I will have made a tiny drop into the ocean of life that someone, somewhere heard for a brief moment.