I recently had an embarrassingly long conversation with my three year old about why he can’t clean the toilet with his toothbrush. I could not understand why he would think this was a good idea. He, however, could not understand why I wouldn’t think this was an excellent idea. Nothing I said changed his mind, and nothing he said was going to change my mind. We were both being assholes, and both left the bathroom frustrated and clinging to the rightness of our own perspective.
Later that night, I found myself engaging in another zero-sum argument. This time there were no toilets, toddlers, or toothbrushes involved, but adults, the internet, and a story about the rise of mass shootings in America. Much like in the bathroom incident with my son, we argued our very different and very passionate versions of truth for far too long. The whole argument made no logical sense to me. How is more guns the answer? How would we have armed guards in every public space? How is it already midnight? It occurred to me at that moment, the way we debate about guns, and politics in general, is no different to the way righteous parents argue common sense with equally righteous toddlers. Except, when it comes to talking about gun control, walls, climate change, Supreme Court nominees, the proper usage of double negatives, everyone thinks they are the adult in the scenario.
We are all being assholes and showing about as much respect for each other’s views as we do to that of a toddler wanting to brush his teeth with toilet water. Instead of building bridges, we are building well-insulated echo chambers where we seek confirmation from like-minded people after being assholes publically. “Winning” has become the only goal, so much so that we have lost our civility in the process. We have become those annoying parents on the sidelines, cheering for our kids to do whatever it takes to “win.” We are so caught up in our own victory that we don’t see and don’t care about the tears or the injuries we caused along the way. We are so polarized and righteous in our views that we are beyond compromise, in fact, we have even villainized compromise as a defeat. Perhaps we do need to go back to the time when “every kid gets a medal.” We have become so consumed with our side winning that we managed to lose sight of the fact that the strongest countries are the ones where everyone wins.
The biggest irony is that we think we are fighting for change, but all we are doing is ensuring the continuation of the status quo. However, with the increase in mass shootings, a shutdown government, and devastating wildfires, to name a few, the status quo is perhaps what we should fear the most. In order to get out of this web of innaction, we need an entirely new starting point, we need to compromise, and we need each other to get there. Much like the toilet situation with my toddler, we all live in the same house, and I can’t (and wouldn’t) kick him out because I fundamentally disagree with him on the proper usage of a toothbrush. He, along with everyone else has a right to an opinion, and none are less important simply because they do not match mine. We all are threads in the fabric of America, we all play a role in the future of the county, and we all matter.
As a country, we are only as strong as our weakest link, and right now, that weak link is our inability to legitimize each others opinions, exercise compassion, and find compromise. We need to step down from our podiums of righteousness, strip down our “solutions,” and find the commonalities that remind us that, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing – a country that is safe, a country that is prosperous, and a country that has affordable lattes.
The way we achieve these goals may not always equal a personal “win,” but we need to remember that the ultimate victory is the country being great, not that we got our way. We need to stop being assholes, we need to stop the fruitless fighting, and we need to respect each other again. We can strive to be “Stronger Together,” and“Make America Great Again,” – these concepts are not mutually exclusive and do not belong to one political party or another. The pursuance of a strong country, a great country, a “toddler and mother live in perfect harmony” country, is a right that belongs to us all.