Given the influence of what we call human nature, it’s doubtful that all Americans will be united in peace and brotherhood any time soon.
But unconditional love is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about simply getting along.
After all, you don’t have to love someone in order to co-exist with them. The problem is that many of the would-be Pied Pipers now shouting into their public microphones are doing all they can to tear us apart.
Because our society is so diverse, it is only natural that we will have a variety of opinions based on party or philosophy. Unfortunately, the political argument that “our party offers the best way to do that” has deteriorated into “our party has the only way.” In the process, the other side is routinely demonized far beyond the bounds of truth and logic. The idea isn’t just to sow disagreement, but actual hatred.
In terms of collateral damage, this lynch mob mentality has caused a definite uptick in personal animosity. But why?
If you are a devout Democrat, nothing you say to a devout Republican is likely to change his or her mind, and vice versa. Just as Congress has become ideologically blocked, so do most politically charged debates between everyday citizens quickly reach a dead end. Even if the proponent of one side presents what seems to be a strong argument, someone who thinks differently will often just attribute that to “fake news.” We’ve learned to throw up shields to deflect information we don’t agree with, rather than bothering to disprove it.
Which is not to say that it is a bad thing to become involved in public affairs, or to have strong beliefs. But maybe it’s best to focus on issues rather than personalities — or, better yet, to simply take religion and politics off the table if you sense that a conversation with someone on that level will be fruitless. If you enjoy another person’s company and you have things in common, what difference does it make which way they vote?
I do a little book editing on the side, and recently worked with a retired cardiologist from Maryland named Asif Qadri on his autobiography. It’s not a book you’re likely to ever see, because it was intended primarily for Qadri’s family, colleagues and patients. Yet because English is his second (or maybe even third) language, he decided to have someone else read the manuscript behind him.
Although I’ve never met Dr. Qadri in person, he comes across in his book as someone with a lot of hard-won wisdom to impart and a compelling story to tell. Indeed, the triumphant arc of his life gives an encouraging insight into the things that are truly important.
Qadri grew up in Kashmir, a small Asian country stuffed in between Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan, both of whom sometimes use it as a battlefield. During his childhood, not all that long ago, his tiny village of Shiekhpora had no electricity, no running water and no cars (which made sense, because there were no roads). He remembers walking more than three miles to school each day along a mountainous footpath.
The thing is, Qadri and his youthful peers didn’t really care. They invented their own fun, reveled in the natural beauty that surrounded them, and did what their parents and teachers told them. God was a benevolent force in their lives, not an avenging angel with a political agenda.
Such a perspective made perfect sense in that setting, until the urban areas not far away began to modernize. Suddenly, because they didn’t have any of those modern things, Qadri and his friends and family were forced to confront an uncomfortable realization — they were poor. There were times when the Qadri family of eight children actually feared starvation because of fluctuations in the ever-critical rice crop.
When you think about it, though, the word “poor” only works as a matter of comparison. You don’t feel poor if no one around you is rich. In Kashmir, that had changed.
As Qadri’s father saw it, the only way out was education. So young Asif, like his siblings and most of the other teenagers around him, approached his studies with a single-minded focus, dreaming of one day becoming a doctor and living in the United States or the UK. He gradually worked his way through the labyrinth of Kashmiri medical schools and competitive exams and ultimately landed as an intern at a hospital in Northern Ireland. From there, he went to England, then Buffalo, and finally Maryland, where he started his own practice. Not only was he earning enough money for him, his wife and their two daughters to live comfortably, but he became the primary means of support for his younger siblings back in Kashmir and even paid for replacing the local mosque there.
Part three of his story was the realization that by working 12 hours a day to build his practice, he had largely neglected his family and his community. So he shed some of his medical responsibilities to free up more time and started a free clinic in Silver Spring, MD that grew into a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour operation offering basic medical services.
Why do I bring this up? Because this appears to be a man who succeeded in life without ever feeling the need to label himself. In his book, Qadri never once espouses any particular philosophy of government. He does mention his Islamic faith, but never in connection or competition with other religions. As for his ethnic identity, his story might have been pretty much the same had he been born in any “Third World” country, or even in some parts of the U.S.
So I offer this book simply as an example — not only of what immigrants can contribute to American society, but as a reminder that public attachment to some political or religious belief isn’t necessary to live a full life.
If you look, the pathways to common ground are all around us.
There’s food, for example. When the waiter or waitress comes to your table in a restaurant, he or she doesn’t ask your political affiliation, or how you feel about the Second Amendment. It’s all about the food, and food is one of thing things we can enjoy and have conversations about without any larger overtones. If you like spinach and your neighbor doesn’t, you don’t waste time trying to bring him over to your side. (Forget the rumors about Biden and hamburgers — it’s not true).
Despite the current fixation over “red” or “blue” states, most people live where they do based on choices unrelated to how the majority votes. Most of the things we like (or don’t like) about a place — climate, job opportunities, traffic flow, the availability of medical care — transcend ideology.
Speaking of medical care, diseases and other bodily afflictions are also politically neutral. True, the COVID-19 pandemic has been politicized, but the virus itself is neither conservative nor liberal.
As for sports, the crowd cheering the home team in a stadium or a sports bar will generally be a cross-section of ethnicity, religion, gender, and political leanings. None of those differences matter when your team has just advanced in the playoffs.
We Americans love to argue, especially about politics. But given the current climate, perhaps it’s better to keep our more fervent beliefs to ourselves.
Despite what they might say, those people who seek to divide us aren’t doing it for our benefit, but their own. Don’t let them create an identity for you. We can all get along.
Darrell Laurant is a veteran journalist who previously worked at the News & Advance (Lynchburg). He published over 7,000 pieces in three decades. Darrell has covered papal visits, the Olympics, American sports, and political issues in Virginia. He has also written a variety of books, including "Inspiration Street: Two City Blocks that Helped Change America."