So What Are We Doing About It?
If you follow the news every day, as I do, you know that half of America hates the other half. Or at least that’s what we are led to believe.
Pick a topic, almost any topic, and you can rest assured that there are people ready to pick a fight over it. Police Reform? Check. Social Justice? Gender Identity? Check. Check. Gun Control? Check. Election Results? Check. Voting Rights? Check. Ethnic Persecution? Check. Vaccinations and Masks? Check and Check.
You could say it’s probably always been this way. You could say that the difference now is that we are exposed to news 24/7. Am I saying that too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing?
They say “be careful what you wish for.” Maybe, in our time, we need to add, “be careful what you hear.” Don’t take everything (and anything) at face value.
Consider the source. Check it out for yourself. Reach your own conclusions. Challenge your own beliefs. Maybe there’s new information that will ever so slightly adjust your point of view. That can only happen, though, if you keep an open mind.
The media saturation that defines daily life shines a blinding light on the “Us vs. Them” war of words that drives us apart. We all know about “woke” and “cancel culture,” both of which have been weaponized by one side of the political spectrum when it wants to discredit the other side. I’ve also heard the expression “culture of contempt.” How sad is that we are constantly at each other’s throats, ready to choke the life out of mutual respect and understanding?
Everything I’ve described so far can be categorized as Macro-America. It’s the big picture. The broad brush strokes that leave little room or time for meaningful details.
IT’S TOO NOISY
We shouldn’t let ourselves be overly influenced by that kind of external or third-party “noise” that fills the screens we look at everyday.
It’s information delivered to such a wide audience that it inevitably must be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, so it is as simple as possible to understand. Ten-second sound bites rule! The trouble is it’s anything but simple.
It’s a lot of noise that drowns out the nuance. Almost all the issues we fight over are much more complex than we give them credit for being.
Is it really like that where you live, though? I have relatives and friends I don’t agree with on a lot of things, but I talk to them about it. I listen to them. They listen to me. We may end up still disagreeing. But at least we’re listening. That’s half the battle.
That’s the beauty and the sensibility of Micro-America. The fine brush strokes. Constructive conversations, preferably face-to-face — not on Zoom, but in person.
TOP DOWN VS. BOTTOM UP
Macro-America is top down, and we all know the four-letter stuff runs downhill. It’s legislation, taxes, technology, environment, social standards, peer pressure, employer expectations, and so on.
Macro-America, basically, is all that lies outside our direct, personal control. We have to deal with all those impacts on our lifestyle as best we can manage.
Micro-America is bottom up. It’s personal. It starts with each one of us, not with an abstract idea or a government institution or a talking head or a loudmouth extremist ready to blame anyone but himself for whatever irritates him at the moment.
Micro-America takes root where we live. It’s ground-level.
Micro-America describes the control we have over our own lives. It’s where we choose to live, our occupation, who our friends are, how we spend leisure time, our goals.
Micro-America is the quality of life and the lifestyle over which we have direct influence, as determined by the choices we make, every day, and for the long-term.
For example, in Macro-America, owning a gun is as American as high school football and 4th of July fireworks. It’s an essential part of your identity and everyday possessions … wallet, cellphone, house keys, firearm — don’t leave home without them!
In Micro-America, how many people do you know who own a gun, much less who have had occasion to use it to defend themselves? It depends to a large extent on where you live, your profession, who you associate with.
Macro-America would have us believe any form of gun control — even very minor changes — is a violation of the 2nd Amendment. Micro-America tells us most people are in favor of some form of legislation that addresses out-of-control gun violence.
In other words, how do we reconcile the personal liberties and freedoms and opportunities implicit in living in Micro-America with the restrictions of mass uniformity, our geographical-cultural differences (Georgia or Arkansas vs New York or Massachusetts; Fox vs CNN), and the moral imperatives that keep us far apart?
Our country is at a crossroads right now. The future — at least for the time being — still is in the hands of Baby Boomers.
But the time is quickly approaching when the state of our country (and of the world, for that matter) increasingly will be decided by Millennials and Gen X.
If you’re satisfied with the way things are — which I find inconceivable — don’t do anything. Just sit on your hands and complain that life isn’t fair.
You’re right. It isn’t. So what are you going to do about it?
Which America do you want to live in, Micro or Macro? It’s actually a false choice. How you choose to live in Micro-America — to shape your personal plot of Micro-America — inevitably will affect the look and feel of Macro-America.
Each of us has a responsibility to change what is unsatisfactory about Macro-America. It’s people yelling at each other, calling each other childish names. It’s people over-simplifying the complexities of national life, and jumping to conclusions about people they don’t know, especially if those people are from other lands.
ASIAN GOLF HERO
It’s not stopping to listen. It’s stooping to name-calling — and physical abuse.
Macro-America is senseless attacks on Asian Americans. Micro-America is golfers applauding the 2021 Masters tournament win by the first player from Japan, because his historic victory elevates throughout the world the game they love.
What can Millennials, Gen X, and even Baby Boomers do to elevate Micro-America, helping its many virtues become woven into the fabric of Macro-America?
“It’s our patriotic duty to see the humanity in people that we disagree with.” That’s a comment by Dave Isay, founder of something called StoryCorps.
StoryCorps’ mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world” across all generations.
That’s quite a different view of patriotism from what the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were shouting about. Patriotism isn’t proved by violence or bigotry. It’s proved by respect for each other and for differences of opinion.
StoryCorps has a program called “One Small Step: Courageous Conversations Across a Growing Divide.” Its premise is that by having people of polar views talk for a period of 40 minutes, face-to-face, it can reduce resentment and conflict.
There’s even an organization, modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, called Racists Anonymous, with its own 12-step program. It asks, “Will we as Americans ever get over our racism?”
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
You don’t need to join these groups, though. You can follow their lead and do it on your own, by opening up lines of communication within your own community. Start small by holding informal salons in your neighborhood to encourage a better appreciation and tolerance of diverse views on hot-button issues.
It doesn’t get more “Micro” than one-to-one conversations. All of us, from Baby Boomers to Gen Z, have an obligation — to ourselves and to our descendants — to do the hard work in our respective Micro-Americas so they add up to a better, more civil Macro-America.
It means seeking out people we disagree with and learning why they think as they do. We all may be in for a pleasant surprise. That we’re not as different in Micro-America as Macro-America currently makes us feel.
The subtitle of the book “Belong,” by Radha Agrawal, says it all: “Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life.”
So, what are we waiting for?