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,

One

we need to talk

Dear America,

It’s our anniversary today. 241 years. Well, 241 if you count that awkward first decade when you were still sort of with England and then we jackassed around with the Articles of Confederation, too nervous to really form a union. And, I know we decided we were never officially broken up during the 1860s, but we weren’t exactly together. Anyway, however you count it, it’s been over 200 years. All that time together counts for something. I hope it does. I’m holding on tight right now to the idea that it counts for something. Because this century has been really hard. We fight all the time, and usually about things that don’t even matter. Every year we have the same pointless fight about what to say to each other at Christmastime. We fight about the stupid shit people say on Twitter and CNN as if it matters. This January we fought for three days about a rain shower. What is going on? Even when we’re fighting about stuff that matters—money or going to the doctor or how we accidentally changed the weather—all we do is yell and try to score cheap points.

I know you know all this. I know we talk about it all the time. I know that you’re sick of talking about it. I’m sick of talking about it. I know it’s impossible to spend as much time together as we do—especially given our different backgrounds—and not fight sometimes. We knew when we got together that there are things we fundamentally do not agree on and that we would be arguing about those things for the rest of our union. But the way that we talk to each other now isn’t healthy. It’s not healthy and it’s not helping. It’s like we’re moving backwards. The things about which we disagree, our different values—it feels like we’re not even trying to understand them anymore, like we’re getting less generous, less loving.

I know in fights in the past you’ve talked about seceding again and I’ve joked about running away and living with some other country, but this feels different. We said after the Civil War we’d never split up again—that we couldn’t, even—but a lot’s changed since then. We’ve changed. What if somewhere along the line our differences became irreconcilable? What if the reasons we formed a union in the first place don’t make sense anymore? What if our ideas about what it means to be a nation have drifted so far apart we can’t ever bring them back together again? I mean, how confident are you that we can agree on what this union should look like in a global, hyper-connected world? A nation, any relationship, is an idea as much as a place, and I don’t know if there’s an idea that we all believe in anymore.

I’m not saying I definitely think we should split up or that I want to split up. I don’t. But at this point, even if it’s scary and painful, I’d rather try to answer these questions like grown ups than have any more arguments about a Tweet. And if we sincerely try and truly can’t answer them—if it doesn’t make sense to be one nation anymore—then why are we expending all this energy arguing? If it’s really time to split up, we owe it to each other to be more thoughtful about it than this.

I honestly hope it doesn’t come to that. Despite all the difficult times and the nightmarish things we’ve done together and to each other, I’m grateful for the years we’ve had together and I want to spend another 200+ years challenging and supporting and surprising and helping each other. I will try my best to figure out how we can do that. It won’t be easy—but, then, that used to be when we were at our best. Hopefully, it still is. More soon.

Yours, Out of Many,

One