October 6, 2012
One of my nephews came to visit this last Thursday. He was in town for a three-day conference. I hadn’t seen him since my mom’s funeral about fifteen year ago – though, as with the rest of my family, I now keep in touch with him on Facebook or the occasional email.
He is fifty, a liberal Christian and a Democrat who heads the public library in his town. An intelligent and amiable man with whom I conversed – as I do with most of my family members when we get together for any length of time – on a variety of topics including religion, politics, the state of the nation and gardening. Our views are quite similar on most of these subjects and we had a lovely visit that ended with a big hug and promises to “get together more often”.
A year or two ago, one of my nieces and her husband came to visit on their way to her mother’s home about eighty miles on east of here. They are in their late forties, conservative Christians, Republicans and also intelligent and amiable. Over the course of that evening we spent together, we, too, discussed religion, politics, the state of the nation and gardening. Our views are quite different on most of these subjects. Yet, though our conversations were a little more animated at times, we also had a lovely visit, full of the same laughter and affection my nephew and I shared, that ended with big hugs and the same promises to get together more often.
And lest you think that my niece and I got along as well as my nephew and I did only because we’re family, I have to be honest with you. In all the friendships I’ve developed in the neighborhoods I’ve lived in over the years, I’ve never broken off a friendship or had someone break off a friendship with me because one found out the other person was a democrat/republican/libertarian or a Christian/Atheist/Muslim/Hindu, or rejected a friendship because one was black/brown/yellow/red/white and the other wasn’t. In those few cases where a friendship actually broke up, it was because either they or I stupidly did something that caused real physical or emotional harm to the other and we couldn’t get past it.
So, what’s my point? Just this. In the techno-marvel world most of us have grown up in, we spend an inordinate amount of time in a series of virtual “realities” – television, radio, books, magazines, movies, the internet – where we are, more often than not, encouraged to fear, hate or distrust a whole series of others based on manufactured character flaws and hyped-up stereotypes by those who profit from all that manipulated mistrust.
It’s not that there aren’t some truly dangerous people in the world. It’s that, unfortunately, most of them are not the people we are encouraged by our leaders to hate.
The military in wartime used to put a lot of emphasis on not fraternizing with the enemy. It’s a lot more difficult to hate or kill someone you’ve realized is a real person, another ordinary human being like you. Our political, religious, corporate, financial and media leaders are not above using that same trick with us.
Virtual reality can be a fun place to escape to occasionally. (How else might I spend a month or so with a bunch of connivers on an exotic and dangerous jungle island? Or imagine what the world would be like if …? Or ponder the wonders of the universe through the space telescope?) But, it’s also a world where someone is always willing to spin straw into gold for us for the low, low price of our not questioning the illusions.
I love my family and friends not because they always agree with me. (How boring would that be?) But, because I know that, out here in the real world, they struggle with the same things I do, they worry about the same things I do and, whatever answers they do come up with, they know that in this complex and entangled world, they don’t always have the right answers any more than I do. And, we love each other anyway.
Beat that, virtual reality!