The Divided States of America

by David T. Bruce

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

~ John Donne

broken-u-sTraveling from Bath, New York to Seaside, Oregon and back again, exploring many points on the map in between, our family had the opportunity to discover the diversity of the United States. The spectacular shifting landscape was a constant reminder that Americans enjoy a variety of terrain: prairie, grassland, mountains and coastline. As we made our way to our destination points, my wife and I frequently prompted our children to set aside their music and their reading, directing their attention to the passing scenery. While Yellowstone National Park’s geysers and hot springs, Mount Rushmore, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis are alluring and obvious tourist attractions, the uncluttered, panoramic scenery that is America is equally stunning.

Our primary motivation for launching this partial tour of the United States was to visit friends and family from whom we have been separated for several years. However, the variety of people we met and the communities we passed by or visited along the way were as notable as the landscapes and the monuments of the country. Most of the people we encountered were friendly, making us feel welcome in their communities. There were also a small number of people who were quick to judge us because of where we were from, treating us rather offensively.

Part of what I tried to understand is that a bias preceded us based upon where we lived: New York State. At the same time, the oftentimes pervasive judgments hurt. We were trying to make friends across the country. We were trying to share a part of ourselves in the hopes that others would do likewise. Apparently, the social and political gaps that exist in our country are wide enough that bridging them is tricky.

In addition to those preconceptions we encountered, separating one community and one state from the next were billboards and other assorted signs that pronounced (or denounced) a particular faith, political party or leader. These public notices were not offensive, but they were suggestive in their proclamation that deviating from the given belief structure was inadvisable, or at least something to be kept hush-hush.

Coming into an election year, it occurred to me why we as a nation are so divided at the polls. What was evident from one part of the country to the next was the impression that each state or community was an island onto itself. Pride in ones self and in ones community is certainly commendable. I think we all have pride in where our respective families and cultures are rooted demographically and historically. The danger lies in cultivating a social environment rooted in self-importance.

Our nation has become one in which it is not enough to have the right to live as we want to live. We have become a nation in which many of us seek to stifle virtually any word, image or idea that is remotely opposing to a given vision of what may be defined as the truth. Political correctness has somehow become an expectation. Voicing new ideas or contrasting opinions has become at least something considered unethical, if not immoral or deviant.

I would like to think that our family has left those we met with a warm feeling and a positive impression of people that call New York State their home. We certainly enjoyed visiting the home states of others, finding that we have more in common than not with people across the country. Perhaps this election year, we may all benefit by focusing on those commonalities, without placing emphasis on what makes us different. We as a people are becoming too divided, and we are being diminished as a result.

Through Which Lenses Do You See This Small World?

by Shadra L. Bruce

ethicalrevolutionist_thelensthroughwhichyouseetheworldWhen I wake up each morning, I am blind until I grope for my glasses and get them on my face. Then everything sharpens into focus. In much the same manner, the way we look at the world around us is skewed by the lenses we wear to see it. If our lenses are colored with personal history, religion, or indoctrinated culture, it is impossible to see things clearly…we see them through thick lenses that skew reality.

None of us can be perfectly free from the skew of our personal lenses; we all have prejudice or bias. I have a very personal bias that I have a difficult time overcoming regarding Mormons. Personal experience has colored my perception; my father’s family is Mormon, but my father is not. He was at certain points in life quite vocal about his rejection of the faith, and my mother  even more so.

Then we moved to Idaho.

For those who believe Utah is the Mormon capital of the world, I truly believe that Idaho (at least in the 1980s when I was in school) was worse. The first question I was asked as a new and frightened 5th-grader at the elementary school I was enrolled in was, “What Ward are you in?”

I didn’t know what a Ward was, which of course made it clear that I was not Mormon. Being non-Mormon in Idaho in the ’80s was in many ways a hellish experience. Non-Mormons were often ostracized, not just by the students but by the Mormon teachers and counselors. We were a tiny minority.

My experience going to school in a predominantly Mormon society has colored my perspective. It’s a lens I have a difficult time shedding, even though many of my own Mormon family members have shown that it is not always that way. My uncle and my grandma are devout Mormons. My uncle has served as a Bishop and as a youth leader. He is strong in his faith, yet he never judges me or my family for our different beliefs; he welcomes us into his home; he treats my children with love.

Does my experience with Mormons color my view of Mitt Romney? I’m sure it does, and probably unfairly so. I wish I could peel off that particular lens to have a clearer view of the man and his potential as a leader. I am working to do that, and recognize in hindsight the many Mormon kids I went to school with who were nothing but kind and friendly.

But I also realize that the color of Obama’s skin has created a lens through which many see him as well, and I wish that they, too, could remove that lens and see him without it.

Our country, it seems, is confined by the lenses through which we see the world. None of us have been willing to look with open and clear eyes at the issues, recognize the need for compromise, and do what is best for the country as a whole. Whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, Christian or Muslim, or something else entirely, we all need to take a step back, remove our respective lenses and see the commonality among us. Regardless of our individual paradigms, we are all parents who care about our kids, kids who love our parents, sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles, and above all HUMAN BEINGS.

Disney has been warning us for decades: “It’s a SMALL world.” And the only way we’re going to get along in it is by making the choice to be not just tolerant of our differences but to embrace the diversity that makes all of us stronger.

We Shouldn’t Have To Buy Our Freedom

by Shadra L. Bruce

ethicalrevolutionist_buyfreedomThis country builds its values on freedom, but the only people who are free are the ones who give the “system” the finger and literally follow their own agenda. The only freedom we have as Americans is that we get to pick who tells us what to do. Let me explain.

The American dream: get an education, get married, buy a house, build a good career, have kids, buy toys, retire comfortably. And everything in this country is set up to support that dream, to funnel us as zombie-like slaves into corporate servitude, to encourage and enforce (and reinforce) reigning social values, by offering tax breaks for getting married and having kids, to entrap us with promises that if we just work hard enough, we too can be rich (all the while offering a mind numbingly below-par, over-priced education to ensure that we stay as sheep-like as possible).

What if you don’t want to live in the American rut? Everything – every law and societal attitude – attempts to force you into a lifestyle indistinguishable from anyone else’s: stay in one place, work at one job, and raise your kids to become the same mindless robots you become, kids who will ultimately believe in and reinforce the same system.

Imagine living in a society where the Earth is still appreciated, where people appreciate and respect each other, and where a person is truly free. People work to meet their needs and wants; that used to be about 8 hours a week. Now it’s 40-60, or more. We work, we eat, we sleep and we try to squeeze in a little fun.

Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

I think things really need to change. Peaceful revolution. Whether we evolve into small, self-sufficient, self-governing communities, or simply wipe the political slate clean and choose our representatives from among real people and not wealthy, out-of-touch imbeciles, I don’t know.

I understand why others look at Americans and think we are pigs. A good majority of us are greedy, gluttonous and hard-hearted; overweight, undereducated and lazy. We’re materialistic and demanding, and we all want something for nothing.

And it’s never our fault.

And yet, this is the only country where the potential for improvement is so possible. It has the POTENTIAL to be fantastic. I love being an American. The ideas America were based on are glorious. But politics corrupts men – hell, politics corrupts the Boy Scouts of America. And instead of a country of the people, for the people, and by the people, we have a country of political pigs getting rich off our growing poverty.

It disgusts me that in a country of freedom that touts itself as the greatest country in the world, children starve, people graduate from high school without being able to read and we can’t live peacefully with people of different cultures and beliefs.

How far down the wrong path are we willing to go before we make the effort to change? Who cares if children starve, if crime does pay, if politicians are greedy, lying, pigs? Most of us have it easy – and actually contribute to the greed with our materialistic demands – so why would we want it to change? Just don’t mess with our evening TV programming, OK?

Listen to your heart, your gut, and your brain – whatever part of your body you trust in an emergency. Listen to it. You should hear sadness, the lost soul, the warning that you’re on the wrong path. You feel the danger of doomsday (and not in any biblical sense).

Right now, we worry about the wrong things and don’t care about the important ones. Who cares who is having sex with whom? It doesn’t matter when we’re all going to get screwed by the government and by the freedom rhetoric. You want to be free? It IS possible.

You know what traps us all? Credit. Because we all want more than we can afford, we extend and overextend to the breaking point. On paper, we might look like the asset column is running ahead of the debt column, but it simply isn’t so. But there is comfort and security in the rut, and that’s why we’re stuck. Until enough people are willing to see past their own big screen TVs to see true reality, nothing will change.