What kind of American do you want to be?

This is not about how you’re going to vote in November. That’s important, of course, and making an informed decision and casting a ballot is something every American should do.

But this is about the choices we make every day, about the kind of Americans we want to be. It’s about the kind of people we want to be. About how we want to treat the other people we share this country with. Because this isn’t your land, or my land. This is our land.

What kind of American do you want to be?So what kind of American do you want to be? Do you want to be an American willing to consider the widely varying viewpoints and beliefs that exist in our country? Or do you want to be an American who shouts down someone who doesn’t see the world exactly as you do, or believe exactly what you do?

Do you want to be the kind of American who respects other people’s faith, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and life choices? Or do you want to be the kind of American who hurls insults or might even take violent steps to show how much you hate them and everything they stand for?

Do you want to be the kind of American who will do what you can to help your neighbors? Or who will grab everything you can for yourself, no matter what it takes or who it hurts?

Consider these two true stories of people who are volunteering by knocking on doors to talk to neighbors about a candidate they support. One of them spoke to someone who said, “I’m voting for the other guy but I appreciate that you’re out here doing this.” The other volunteer — who took her daughter along to teach her about civic engagement — was told by her fellow American, “Get your black ass off my porch.”

Which one of those Americans do you want to be?

What kind of American do you want to be?It’s not even just about politics. Do you want to be the guy at the grocery store who doesn’t rush to the newly opened checkout lane because other people were already waiting? Or do you want to be the guy who pushes everyone aside as if they’re not even there?

I realize that as Americans, we’re going to have our own opinions, as we should. And with those come differences and disagreements. I’m not shy about speaking my mind — and yes, I am sometimes critical of politicians and others whose actions or policies trouble me. Especially if they’re lying, cheating or being hypocritical. I check my facts and I focus on educating people about the truth. I often use humor to make a point and, I admit, sometimes I can be downright snarky. That usually means I’ve been pushed to my limit. But I don’t believe in stooping to the level of lying or hate-speech or attacking someone’s personal choices.

And that, right there, is where I think people too often cross the line. I have no problem with someone disagreeing with our President or anyone else. I do have a problem with blatant disrespect, lies and abusive rhetoric. It’s never okay to threaten violence, even if you’re doing it from behind a computer screen.

The next couple of months are going to be intense. Yes, both sides will fight hard because that’s the reality of modern politics. It would be ideal if every candidate talked about nothing but the issues and specific plans for our country’s future. I’m eager for the debates, where we’ll see which candidate focuses on those points. Sadly, though, for the most part that’s not what tends to get in the news or capture the attention of much of the public.

What kind of American do you want to be?But each and every one of us has the power to change that. In the words of Leo McGarry, we can raise the level of debate in this country. We can work hard to be civil, to be fair, to debate based on facts instead of hyperbole and hysteria. We can have conversations that serve to educate those we disagree with instead of tearing them down. We can have conversations that open our own minds. And we can certainly be kinder to each other, not just in political discourse but in everything we do, every day.

We can either be a country of Americans who treat each other with respect, tolerance and acceptance, or we can be a country of Americans who resort to insults, violence and hate.

What kind of American do you want to be?

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10 thoughts on “What kind of American do you want to be?

  1. Rosie says:

    Thanks for writing this. I really hope it gets some people to stop and think about how they approach the conversation.

    I recently had a heated debate with my brother. We disagree politically, and I know that, but I also know he’s a smart guy and if anyone is going to help me understand the other side, it will be him. Unfortunately, as we discovered later, we had opposite goals for the conversation. I wanted to find common ground. He wanted to win. We both lost that argument, but we won an important battle, and the next conversation will be different. Could this issue of opposing goals be the one of the problems with people who shout one another down? I think perhaps.

    • Thank you, Rosie, for reading my post and adding some excellent insights. No common ground can be found if anyone involved wants only to win, and I’m glad you and your brother learned how you might better exchange viewpoints in the future. And I think you’re absolutely right about the issue of opposing goals being a barrier to civilized debate.

  2. R. K. Bishop says:

    It shouldn’t surprise me that someone was disrespectful to a volunteer in front of that volunteer’s daughter, but it still does. I could never understand why people would immediately be rude to others when there are other respectful options. Some people need to learn that disagreeing doesn’t automatically mean “let’s fight.”

    Unfortunately, Politics is one of those issues I categorize as “you make a better enemies than friends” topics. It shouldn’t be like that. We should, as Americans, be able to discuss the issues like adults. Of course, it doesn’t help that some of our politicians act disrespectful too.

    You did really well into putting these ideas into words.

    • Thank you for your kind words. That volunteer story made me so sad when I heard it — but, to her credit, the mother said she won’t let what happened discourage her. I appreciate you sharing some great viewpoints on this topic.

  3. Elsie, I sometimes have to wonder about people like the hateful man you mentioned and the people who can’t let others have their own opinions, religious faith (or lack thereof), or sexual orientation without feeling as though their America was being threatened.

    If you asked one of those people “What kind of American do you want to be?” I wonder what they’d say? Hateful Guy probably wouldn’t say “I want to be a a total asshole who makes others ashamed to share my nationality.” He’d offer up words that painted him in his own eyes as the loyal American he no doubt believes he is. His America is for white people only, and probably straight Christian white people at that, and in his America he’s a patriot, as distasteful as that seems. I think Americans have always lived in different Americas according to their vision for their country, but the walls were never so high and wide and deep, and the gulf between so wide, as they have become.

    • Thank you, Bridget, for giving us all something to consider about the way we see ourselves. We all have our own views — biases, even — although I’ll never understand haters. But you’re so right about the walls between us being higher than ever. The last thing we need is to keep building them up.

  4. Dan Conley says:

    I’m grateful for your checkout lane analogy, shades of David Foster Wallace. I think we sometimes weaken the argument by calling it civility. It’s really about human decency and caring that there’s a world beyond our own skulls. You can’t appreciate the beautiful mystery of the world unless you recognize just how much of what you know could be wrong and that truth and beauty come in the most surprising forms.

    • What a kind and beautifully written reply, Dan. I, in turn, am grateful to you for taking the time to read my post, and for your powerful reminder of what it takes to fully recognize everything this gorgeous world of ours has to offer…if we’re willing to be open to it.

  5. What always amazes me, is how easily some “patriotic” Americans find it to take positions and perform actions totally contrary to the nation’s spirit. The united in “United States ” means more than just States having come together in union, but means people having come together to share the burdens of forming and supporting a nation. It means that despite our individual differences, their are common threads and themes that bind us together as people. Freedom, liberty, justice… these are not merely words, but concepts, concepts that drove the Founding Fathers to risk so much to try and form a nation. To claim that there is some absolute yardstick against which an American must be measured, a set of invariant principles that can never be challenged, is folly.

    Start by being a good person. It follows that good people will be good Americans.

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