We've all had a good number of questions posed to us in recent days. The issue is whether we heard them and, if we did, how we responded. Above all the tweeting, name-calling and chanting, some underlying issues can easily slip through our fingers and never truly sink into our American minds. These sorts of questions may be sweepingly broad, but they sharpen themselves to a point when we truly take hold of them and dare to internalize them. Their needle-thin implications can stab at us with the strength of a sledge hammer.
They are questions about who we are as individuals — with individual religion, culture, experience and value — who exist under the umbrella term of American. It's a label we created, and it's a label that has perhaps gotten away from us. It is America which goes to war while the individuals argue over whether bloodshed is justified. It is America which beacons the immigrant, while the individuals argue over whom should be welcomed. It is America which stands as a tower of democracy while the individuals argue over what should be done with such power.
Our concept of America has taken on a life of its own in many ways, yet remained a concept nonetheless — an idea.
The recent words from some of our politicians have not simply dredged up questions of racism, party politics and civility. Those piles of anger, outrage and reaction leave greater implications in their wake. They cause us to take account of who we are. We are not merely an idea of a country — some theoretical identity we can tinker with to fit the most convenient definition of the day. We are individuals whose differing voices, differing cultures and yes differing religions drive our country and our national identiy forward from one generation to the next.
When we are told it would be best for America if particular pieces of that identity were to leave, that betrays the purpose of its creation. When those in Congress chastise colleagues who refuse to ignore that betrayal, the idea takes the helm as the creator rather than serving those for whom it was created.
Indeed, we should seek agreement, but we should not seek homogeny. Indeed, we should seek debate, but we should not seek to eliminate dissent. We molded our creation from the clay of dissent. We crafted its features to serve all people. That means all people will have a hand in its destiny. To put it another way, if we choose to deny them their inalienable rights, their fate becomes our legacy. To a certain degree, we individuals bear the blame for our collective creation's deeds.
It's a heavy burden to bear, but we must never cope with that weight by silencing the voices of the opposition or calling for our fellow Americans to leave the country they have been tasked with shaping. Rather, we should ponder our preconceptions and venture to cut a path toward unity within diversity.
That is the greater burden/