If we intend on being an accepting modern society of change and progression so that all people feel comfortable in their skin both literally and figuratively, then we need to reject the common practice of preach first and act last. The boiling point you’re witnessing is one that is brought on by years of saying the right things publicly, making your sales pitch for personal gain, and then privately believing and acting in a very different way.
We say and feel things differently throughout our lives. Our political opinions, societal views and their subsequent importance, and overall reaction to the world around us is something that is always in flux. We change who we are because the world changes. Our priorities reorganize. In the simplest of terms, it is cause and effect. Who we are today, and who we want to be tomorrow, is far more important than who we were then.
However, to understand the path forward, you do have to acknowledge the past. So, if you find yourself asking how we got to this point, it is not all that difficult to see. We, including myself, have ignored the obvious signs of lingering racial hatred, ignorance, and injustice for decades. We have looked the other way far too often while living amongst those whom we know are wrong. In the middle of the 20th century, this nation began a movement for acceptance. There were huge gains made during this movement in an effort to promote and achieve equality for all men and women. But America got lazy. America became a nation of materialization and commercialization. The focus of the American people leaned heavily in favor of making life easier, more fun, and relaxing, and less on finishing what was already started in the 1960s.
From 1986 until well into the 21st century, living in rural Pennsylvania I was unaware of the “tone” many people around me had. I was distracted. From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman as a kid to PlayStation as a teenager to cell phones as an adult, the distractions from the real world were and continue to be endless. The only difference between now and then, is that the real world has become much louder than that what distracted us from it.
We are not all going to march down main street. We are not all going to scream from rooftops. Most logically thinking individuals understand that not everyone is in a position for whatever reason, to be the loudest voice in the room. The world is made up of those who lead and those who follow. However, our definition of leading tends to be one that is dramatized. We often time believe that to be a leader you have to stand tall in front of a crowd of people, and then captivate them such as JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. That you need to get people fired up and passionate about the cause you are supporting. That is in fact, one type of leader. Yet, much like military conflict, once the bombs are dropped, that does not mean the fight is over. It takes small victories over months or even years to help win the war. For the small victories, it doesn’t necessarily take a boisterous leader, but rather someone who will stand by their principles, values, and beliefs. Consistency one of the premier forms of educated your peers.
Look to your inner circle. I see post after post of local, small-town people who say, “We need to do better. We need to be accepting. We need to evolve.” Yet, I also see the same people continuing to play on recreational sports teams with, go out with, and spend significant time with folks who are openly prejudiced, racist, sexist, and anti-LGBTQ. I do not necessarily mean family. You do not choose your family, but you do choose your friends and who you associate with during leisure time. Change requires sacrifice. Some have to sacrifice a lot, and some a little, but if you’re going to tell your social media “friends” to improve their way of thinking, I sure hope you’re starting with your real friends.
Those who spew hatred, whether vague or direct, need to not find comfort in groups or numbers. They need to not find comradery in their views amongst the general public. This passive support is what allows them to feel as if they speak for the majority of people. Yourself included. These individuals should only find themselves feeling more and more isolated as society moves beyond their retrogressive mentality and into a more accepting, secure, and understanding future.
Who is truly invested in the future? This isn’t about an election now or four years ago. This isn’t about any election for that matter. It’s not about Trump, Biden, Clinton, or Bush. This is about you. How you carry yourself in and out of your social circles. The modern world has serious and major issues to deal with that we will not be able to handle if we continue to propagate these divisive and exclusionary beliefs that don’t just date back generations, but centuries.
The future belongs to no one. All we know is, it’s our responsibility to make it better. For our children and for their children. We must take the time and have the patience to continue this work in progress we call modern society so that they don’t have to rebuild from the ground up.
Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on My Elm Tree on Aug. 12, 2020. It is republished here with the author’s permission.