It feels like we live in a world today where rushing to judgment on the behaviors and actions of others without all the facts has become the norm. It is especially convenient when the person in question thinks or looks differently than us. American is still a place where you’re innocent until proven guilty unless something has changed in our system of jurisprudence that I am unaware of. Of course, some people do hateful and terrible things and should be held to account for their actions, however, behavior does exist across a continuum and context does matter. There are two sides to every story and rarely is one person’s recollection 100% accurate and another’s 100% wrong. This is why we have a legal system based on Due process.
Winning elections is important but not at all costs. Thinking differently shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. Diversity of thought is critical to our democracy. Our country was built by flawed people who debated great ideas and ultimately found common ground to rally around. People you disagree with aren’t always the enemy. To think that you alone or your like-minded friends and colleagues have the market cornered on good ideas or morality can be dangerous. Extreme thinking can bend in either direction. Ideologues on the far left and far right have wrecked a lot of damage throughout the history of humankind.
Sanctimony is also an unattractive trait no matter who is the author. Should someone closed to other points of view really have free reign to architect the future for others? Why would someone who feels you haven’t even considered their opinion in a fair-minded way listen to what you have to say? If they feel you’ll attack at the slightest hint of vulnerability, then don’t be surprised if they withhold information or attack first. In addition, who likes to feel inferior to someone else? There is as much emotional energy in the universe pulling us apart as putting us together. Tribalism always lurks beneath the surface of our common humanity and there are people waiting to leverage this dynamic to their own benefit.
Many beliefs I held firmly in other periods of my life haven’t always stood the test of time (or at least my experience of it). The circumstances of my life have altered my perspective. Experience is both intellectually and emotionally humbling. There have been people I’ve looked up to who have let me down. There have been others I’ve harshly judged who have later surprised me in positive ways. I have assumed things that weren’t true. I’ve overestimated my ability to read others and predict their behavior. I am an often proven wrong, uniformed or too emotional to be rational about things. I also get influenced by the media and people I respect to think in certain ways without really reasoning it through. In short, I am human and a work in progress as we all are. None of us are omniscient or omnibenevolent. We should always be in search of the highest version of the truth regardless of the circumstances.
My worry is that a knee jerk mob mentality is starting to form (in what we take for granted as our free and open society) and it is quick to lash out at every opportunity. We want to punish others because of separate conclusions we have drawn from our own often quasi-related individual experiences. It’s almost as if we want to get even with people we don’t know just because feel they represent something similarly bad that happened to someone we know or ourselves regardless if there is a true connection or not. As long as there is a whiff of similarity it is sufficient grounds to shift into overdrive and act aggressively. It’s also easy to mete out or own version of justice based on strong opinions rather than uncovering the facts and testing conclusions. It’s much harder to step back, reflect, and weigh different versions of the events in question and remove our own individual biases. Our Founding Father rightfully knew this and did everything possible to protect us from ourselves. I hope their work continues to stand the test of time but we, as citizens, must be mindful when we get off track.