I have a graduate who infuriates me with his social media activity. A former U.S. Marine, he’s known to post pictures of his favorite gun, his achievements at the shooting range, and memes that taunt his liberal friends. His sense of humor, not always funny. I’ll give him this though—his wit is often satirical in nature, and many, to put it kindly, have a very hard time understanding satire. Having said that, his posts are enough to drive me to drink. He’s one of my graduates, after all—one of my kids. I can remember having sincere conversations with him about standing up for what is right, defending those who are innocent and weak, and loving this country. He has seen a lot—he’s been to places ordinary citizens would never dare venture in their worst nightmares and has encountered situations that would make most of us hide from the world for the rest of our lives. He hasn’t had it easy.
Last night, while multitasking poetry submissions, London excursion research, and DNC highlights, I came across a beautiful Facebook post from Luke. These kinds of sentiments are rare, so when they pop up, I always take a minute to see what he has to say. It was about love, and beauty—holding on and letting go. How there are aspects of life that, try as we might, we just can’t put behind us. The subject of the post was ambiguous. I wasn’t certain if he was talking about a girl, a friend, or even his country, but the intention was clear. We all want kindness, compassion, and love in our lives. It is the human condition that connects us. And I cried.
I am the liberal daughter of Republicans. Feminist? Yes. Bra burner? Don’t put it past me. I do despise them, after all. My parents are moderate and support many of the social issues I also embrace; so while we disagree on many things, I think when it comes down to it, we agree upon a lot as well. Growing up, they taught me to think for myself—to be true to my heart and not let anyone sway my beliefs, including them. I’ve devoted my life to standing up for the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the voiceless, and maybe he doesn’t realize it, but my dad is the one who taught me that. He spent his career locking up bad guys—really bad guys. The kind who send bombs, anthrax, and child pornography through the mail—sick bastards who hurt children and prey on the innocent. During the attacks on 9/11, the Postmaster General asked my dad not to retire, as he had planned—to stay on as Chief Postal Inspector of the country and bring enemies to justice. So, he did. As a little girl, I didn’t understand what being a Postal Inspector entailed; I thought he was a mailman who carried a badge. Why would I think differently? My dad never, ever brought his work home with him so family dinner conversations were about school, friends, and activities. As I grew older, I started paying attention from afar. My dad was major. Ultimately, I learned that there are different ways to defend those in need, and sometimes those doing the defending have different beliefs.
I’ve unfriended and blocked a handful of graduates that have disappointed me—the misogynists, xenophobes, racists, sociopaths, anti-Semites, and homophobes. There aren’t many, but they absolutely suck. Shame on them for having the privilege of learning about diversity, understanding, and love from a district that values character education and then spreading hatred in this world. Many are not so fortunate. There are also those I “hide” from my newsfeed, and I have various reasons for using this feature. I tend to filter the Debbie Downers, the constant body-ache-whiners, the Candy Crush inviters, and those who bombard social media with their very own selfie photoshoot sessions. It just gets to be a lot. But I haven’t unfriended or hidden Luke, even though I’ve come close.
People can disagree on personal philosophies, but when you really look into someone’s heart, what do you see? Are we all just on very different trajectories toward the same goal? Isn’t that what centuries of various religious beliefs have taught us? Disregard the haters for a minute, and take a closer look at your friend, family member, or co-worker who holds a very different political stance. You know the one I’m talking about—the one who, behind his back you say things like, “but he’s so normal and caring! How could he possibly be a [insert liberal/conservative/socialist/ Democrat/Republican/Kanye fan]?” Think about that person hard. How does he conduct himself? Does he defend the rights of minorities? Does he help those facing hardships, people with disabilities, or the elderly, homeless, or sick? Is that person willing to actually get off of his ass and get his hands dirty rather than sitting around spouting off his opinions? Ouch. That’s a hard one, folks. Because that’s what caring people who actually want to change the world do. It’s called love of your fellow man.
From seeing his occasional posts, I’ve learned that Luke continues to be well-read; he does his research. He refuses to support either presidential candidate because, to put it mildly, he is dissatisfied with both choices. After my second glass of wine, aka truth serum, I sent a private message to Luke, conveying my thoughts and praising his beautifully written post. He is not one for veiled sentiment or having smoke-blown up his ass, so I think he appreciated my honesty. He simply said this: “I can sit here and disagree with all of my friends on a lot of issues, but at the end of the day, it’s their personality and the caliber of their character that I hold in regard.” Let that be true for all of us. Last night, a young man who left my classroom over a decade ago—a man who defended my right to hop on social media and voice my opinions, a man who is confined to a wheel chair, a man who is incredibly aggravating— made me stay up all night writing, analyzing, and pondering my own flaws and judgements. His views frustrate me as much as I probably frustrate my own parents. And just as they are proud of me, I will always admire those who seek good in the world. Maybe all of our conversations through this very contentious time need to start there rather than end there. One of the basic lessons I try to convey to my students is to listen as much as they speak, or even more than they speak. Let’s do that. Let’s begin with a bigger picture. Let’s begin with equality, human rights, and human decency. Let’s begin by actually doing something besides pontificating. Let’s begin with the caliber of character and work backwards.