Anyone who knows me personally, or follows me on Twitter for that matter, knows that I proudly tout an esteemed level of open-mindedness. Although I have no doubt many would attribute this to the exceptional levels of apathy which I seem to possess, that is not entirely accurate.
The truth is, until relatively recently I was always excessively quick to judge anybody who had a different opinion than me.
This isn’t particularly non-typical for an American. In fact, I would argue that most Americans spend their lives as a traditional majority within their specific community. People are simply more likely to live around people who are like them; whether based on race, religion, country of origin, or any other factor.
Suburbs of Chicago, for example, are to this day split pretty clearly by original nationality—Polish, Irish, German, etc. This wasn’t necessarily designed—it just happened. People like people who are like them.
Nonetheless, I always felt like a minority growing up. My family wasn’t from the town I lived in, I was one of the only non-wealthy kids at a private school, I had a darker complexion, I was quite, I was conservative, I was out-of-the-ordinary.
I came from a place where there was more to define ones-self by than faith or race or political opinion. As do most Americans. We have an assumed standard based on our own community for what is right and normal and what is wrong and not normal and we fall on one side of this or the other.
And by default, despite my previous claim of traditional majority, most American end up as a minority.
Saying that I am a white Catholic, for example, in a community of white Catholics is no longer a defining factor. I am determined by my having preferred Casablanca over Mean Girls in the same way a black Baptist in a community of black Baptist is separated by their love of hard rock music over gospel.
America is a culture based on individualism, not collectivism. We value the aspects of ourselves that separate us and we, therefore, value being a minority.
Picturing myself as a minority, however, bred prejudices. If I was a conservative and I was right, clearly other people simply didn’t understand the truth that I knew. Capitalism is so clearly the answer to the problems America is facing, how could anyone be naïve enough to believe otherwise?
Early in my college career I was given the opportunity to visit Ireland. Ireland was never high-ranking on my list of countries to visit, but I would never turn down an opportunity to do something out-of-the-ordinary so I took the trip.
Visiting northern Ireland (as in the northern part of Ireland, not the country of Northern Ireland) was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had. The thing is, Americans don’t generally think of Ireland as a place of conflict, but the Ireland-Britain conflict is as alive in the northern parts of Ireland as ever. Protestant vs. Catholic struggles are still a major factor in political campaigning and decision-making. There are places in Ireland where you would not want to be Protestant and there are places in Ulster where you wouldn’t want to be Catholic.
Not only is the IRA still active but there are dozens of branches of anti-Protestant and anti-British civilian military and political organizations in operation. One of the most frequently blown-up buildings in the world is in Derry, Northern Ireland.
Never before in my life had I experienced a political or social conflict with as basic a boundary as faith or national-loyalty—a benefit of American heritage.
For the first time it struck me that in the United States our minority- or majority-status is purely, 100% inconsequential.
If in Ireland-a Western, civilized, fantastic, beautiful nation-people can shoot each other or blow each other up due to faith or political opposition, why can’t America, a nation that is historically ahead-of-the-curve, talk things out? Or perhaps, more accurately, why are we shouting at each other across aisles instead of holding productive conversations?
As a Catholic who (being thoroughly American) supports independence (of any kind, but especially) in Ireland, I had a natural inclination to support the local Irish. But did that mean I would have to support the IRA? Or the RIRA? Or Sinn Féin?
I mean, the Irish Republican Army is violent and the Real Irish Republican Army is even more violent. And Sinn Féin is socialist. But they support independence…so which of those ideals is more important?
Really, I wanted a way to support Catholicism and freedom without supporting all the bad things because, although I feel the need to stand up for things I identify as, I don’t want to compromise my moral sensibilities. I had never experienced my identity at odds with itself because I had always been in America where my “identity” could mean whatever I wanted it to mean.
Really, it came down to this: logically I know the entire conflict is silly. It’s easy to say that England should just give the Irish Ulster. Conversely, it’s equally as easy to say that Ireland should just quit trying to get Northern Ireland back. Pragmatically, however, I understand that it’s a lot different when there is investment in either ideology.
Not being fundamentally submerged in the conflict provided some insight.
Being a Catholic in a sea of violent Catholics taught me that my philosophy on everything wasn’t inherently right. If I can rationally understand that there is a reasonable argument against the nationalism in Ireland I hesitantly support, why can’t I understand that there must also be a sensible disagreement with the conservatism a sustain at home?
The truth is, every argument has an objective base in fact. Even the arguments we disagree with.
Inevitably every intention is distorted by passion, false-facts, or malice, but original aims are almost always honest.
In this sense, the ambitions or Bernie or Trump have their merits. (The party system is broken, all politicians are corrupt, new direction is required for progress, etc.)
Unfortunately, most Americans are incapable of seeing the quality of opposing views; perhaps because we’ve never been provided the prospective to do so.
In recent years we’ve seen both parties become increasingly polarized. This leads to ineffective leadership, the inability to pass law-less that 11% of Americans think Congress is effective-and, perhaps most importantly, the hindering of our capabilities for constructive and bi-partisan conversation on every level.
For forward progress to be effectively made in either party, compromise is necessary. Compromise, however, is increasingly difficult to find. Modern politicians are criticized and ostracized for attempting to work across the aisle.
Perhaps even if we cannot induce our Congressmen to collaborate collectively, we can create grassroot efforts that attempt to understand opposing views and to facilitate conversation to ensure the desires of the majority of Americans are being met.
After all, united we stand, divided we fall.