stop trying to fix me

Dear America,

We’ve got to stop trying to fix each other. Somewhere along the line we all got this idea that we had to convince each other to think alike. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? I know we’re all frustrated with how things are going right now, but is the problem really that we don’t all see the world the same way? Do we need to spend all this time fretting about our different perspectives and worldviews? “The people in that part of the country, oh, man, they think differently than I do. They have different priorities than I do.” Well, yeah. We knew that when we got together. Why now do we take every disagreement so personally, chalk it up as proof of some grave defect that must be excised or eradicated? Always seeing the world in the same way isn’t exactly a realistic standard for a relationship.

I know I’m not splitting the atom here. People in partnership try to change each other all the time. They get caught up in a fantasy of perfection. A change here, a tweak here, an upgrade here and things will be perfect. And we have always had a utopian streak. But no union is perfect, and as long as we’re bent on perfection, we’re going to exhaust ourselves trying to turn each other into people we’re not.

Honestly, when was the last time you convinced someone to look at the world in a different way? And when was nagging the most effective way to do that? If I tell you that you’re thinking wrong, that your priorities are all out of whack, all I’m really doing is staking out an indefensible position: If I insist that you change the way you think, it’s pretty easy for you to keep getting my goat. And if we’re both insisting that the other think differently…. Shocking that we end up in these unending, deadlocked arguments.

I’m tired of wringing my hands about how hard it is to change the way you think. Fake news. Echo chambers. Confirmation biases. It all seems so disheartening. But it’s only disheartening if we need to change each other’s perspective. What if instead all we need to do is understand each other’s perspective—not agree with it or even like it, but just understand—and then figure out how to live together?

That’s ours if we want it.

We just need to accept that our union will never be perfect. Because, it’s true, if we stopped judging and ranking and fearing our differences, if we just accepted them, those differences would moderate each other. We would none of us get exactly what we wanted. We’d have to give up on some of our favorite things, the ones we just know would make our union perfect, because those are the things that would clash with someone else’s idea of perfection. But maybe we could embrace the fact that our relationship is strong and durable not because it’s seeking perfection, but because it’s seeking compromise. I know. That’s not sexy. But our union was never supposed to be perfect, remember? Just “more perfect.” And “more perfect” is another way of saying that sometimes I’m going to find you wildly annoying and I’m going to be completely certain that the way you think about some challenge or conflict is entirely backward—and that’s okay. It’s not a dealbreaker. It’s part of the deal.

Yours, Out of Many,